“Challenges from urbanization and migration will persist, while the effects of air pollution, inadequate water, and climate change on human health and livelihood will become more noticeable,” says the “Forward” to the assessment. “Domestic policy responses to such issues will become more difficult—especially for democracies—as publics become less trusting of authoritative information sources.”
The Worldwide Threat Assessment is delivered annually to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence. When DNI Coats delivered the 2017 threat assessment in May of last year, it included a passage stating that the intelligence community is not responsible for weighing the “science of climate change.”
“We assess national security implications of climate change but do not adjudicate the science of climate change,” said the 2017 threat assessment. “In assessing these implications, we rely on U.S. government-coordinated scientific reports, peer-reviewed literature, and reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the leading international body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change.”
The 2018 threat assessment did not include a similar statement but did include the following section:
Environment and Climate Change
The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent—and possibly upheaval—through 2018.
• The past 115 years have been the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, and the past few years have been the warmest years on record. Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. Research has not identified indicators of tipping points in climate-linked earth systems, suggesting a possibility of abrupt climate change.
• Worsening air pollution from forest burning, agricultural waste incineration, urbanization, and rapid industrialization—with increasing public awareness—might drive protests against authorities, such as those recently in China, India, and Iran.
• Accelerating biodiversity and species loss—driven by pollution, warming, unsustainable fishing, and acidifying oceans—will jeopardize vital ecosystems that support critical human systems. Recent estimates suggest that the current extinction rate is 100 to 1,000 times the natural extinction rate.
• Water scarcity, compounded by gaps in cooperative management agreements for nearly half of the world’s international river basins, and new unilateral dam development are likely to heighten tension between countries.