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Military, Security Agencies Must Step Up on ‘Disruptive Impact’ of Climate Change, Ex-Advisor Warns

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service needs to “step up” its efforts to prepare for the disruptive impact of climate change on national security, says the former intelligence advisor to the prime minister, as militaries around the world confront a globally-warmed future.

Vincent Rigby told CBC News that climate change is now on the radar as a cumulative threat, with repeated and widespread extreme weather events producing an impact that is “quite, quite, quite damaging and quite, quite, quite severe.” 

“It’s a threat to our economy. It’s a threat to our social fabric to a certain extent, and it’s a threat to how we deploy our resources,” Rigby said.

CSIS is exploring climate change more proactively than ever before to understand how extreme weather events, conflict over resources, and increased human migration will threaten national security. (Experts point out that while migration itself does not pose a security threat, inadequate policies do.) 

“As time goes on, you’ll see greater disagreements, greater conflicts, potentially over water resources, for example,” said Rigby.

But Canada’s federal government is woefully unprepared to respond to the changing environment, according to the Centre for International Governance Innovation. CIGI recommends establishing a federal cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, with input from the public safety, defence, and global affairs departments, CBC writes.

“It’s the kind of long-term planning we clearly need to be doing rather than just scrambling every time there’s an emergency, because we simply keep getting caught not prepared,” said Simon Dalby, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Rigby agreed Canada’s intelligence community needs to “step up [its] game” on assessing the dangers presented by climate change, in both the short and long term.

Similarly lagging climate policy responses recently prompted a senior U.S. Pentagon official to warn that the American military is not ready for the climate emergency.

“We are not where we should be, and now is beyond the time when we need to get in front of that challenge,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told CNN.

Hicks said new competition will arise for Arctic resources as sea ice melts (a concern that was also raised by CSIS), while pointing to threats to supply chains for fuel and other resources for military technology.

The British Armed Forces have also been slow to prepare for climate change, though one army officer has been ahead of the curve. After noting how extreme heat impaired his troops’ operations while stationed in Iraq in 2003, three-star general Richard Nugee started to worry about the future of British military operations on a warming planet. He followed up on his concerns with a draft Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach for the Ministry of Defence, writes the Washington Post. 

Nugee stressed that his strategy is strictly about improving military effectiveness. “This is not doing it for moral reasons,” he said. “This is not doing it because it’s about emissions. It’s about our own capability, it’s about our ability to be the most successful and the most credible force that we can.”

Prominent in Nugee’s report is the urgency to reduce emissions, with measures like flying aircraft at 50% sustainable aviation fuel. It also suggests adapting armed forces for harsher operating environments and increased conflict over resources.

“Armed forces the world over will face this challenge and will need to build resilience,” the report states. “A defence properly organized for climate change is one that will be better able to defend its citizens.”