Climate Change as a National Security Issue

April 26, 2021
Climate Change as a National Security Issue

Former Secretary of State Kerry calls it one of the biggest threats facing the nation

By CLEA SIMON, The Harvard Gazette

Climate change is increasingly being recognized as a factor in global security as floods and drought displace populations and famine and disease destabilize governments.

“The climate crisis is just that,” said former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, now the special presidential envoy for climate change, at a daylong Harvard symposium Friday. “But it is also a national security issue.”

Chatting with Calder Walton, assistant director of the Belfer Center’s Applied History Project and Intelligence Project, Kerry outlined the implications. “We know that the climate crisis can produce countless refugees,” he said, detailing climate issues that uproot populations, from food insecurity and drought to floods. Such conditions, he said, “become a cauldron for extremist organizing and proselytizing.” As well as destabilizing other countries, these conditions threaten our own readiness, he added, posing a potential existential threat.

Kerry was among the experts who explored the topic during “Climate Change, Intelligence, and Global Security Conference,” sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Center for Climate and Security. The online event picked up on the themes of the international Leaders Summit on Climate launched by the White House the day before.

“If climate change is an existential threat it should be dealt with as other existential threats are,” Kerry stressed. “But we are not.”

The intelligence community, Kerry explained, must be central to any response. “In my judgment, climate change is the biggest non-state-actor threat there is, and we have a lot of planning to do,” said Kerry. “But we want to know a lot more than we know. I want the intelligence community to tell me as much as they do before I go into negotiations.”

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