For decades, China was reluctant to deem climate change a national security issue, preferring instead to view it through the lens of development. The driving concern behind China’s reticence was sovereignty; Beijing feared that crisis rhetoric about climate change would be used to legitimate interventionist actions on the part of Western powers, including forcing Beijing to curtail its economic growth.
Michelle Melton is a 3L at Harvard Law School. Before law school, she was an associate fellow in the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where she focused on climate policy.
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The modern economy is built on an international transportation infrastructure that is largely invisible to the consumer. Nearly every banality of modern life, from the clothes people wear to the out-of-season food they eat, is possible only because goods can move easily by air and sea across vast distances, at a low cost.
On Feb. 22, deputies from a variety of government agencies convened a meeting to discuss the White House proposal to establish a Presidential Committee on Climate Security.
Scientific and public understanding of climate change has evolved considerably since the late 1980s, when evidence of a changing climate first rose to public prominence. Since then, scientists have observed strong evidence of warming itself and have been able to attribute it with confidence to human activities.
The U.S. national security establishment has been increasingly vocal that climate change is a national security threat—and the U.S. is not alone in this regard. But exactly how serious is this threat? How concerned should policymakers be? Assessing the magnitude of the national security threat posed by climate change requires addressing the antecedent issue of timing.
Climate Change and National Security, Part I: What is the Threat, When’s It Coming, and How Bad Will It Be?
For more than a decade, the national security agencies of the federal government have repeatedly recognized climate change as a national security threat. Since 2010, the Department of Defense has published at least 35 products explicitly addressing the threat of climate change. The intelligence community has produced at least a dozen more.