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The Nexus of Climate Change and National Security

Aerial Panoramic of Skaneateles Lake and Village

EXPERT PERSPECTIVEThe COP27 priming in late November put climate transpiration when on the agenda. The summit ended with an historic try-on to establish a loss and forfeiture fund to support countries once ravaged by the effects of climate change. However, there was little progress on other areas such as reducing emissions.

COP27 came without flipside year in the wake of climate disasters. From heatwaves in Europe to catastrophic flooding in Pakistan to the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 40 years, climate disasters caused billions in damages and economic losses and killed thousands in 2022.

Beyond firsthand human financing and physical destruction, climate transpiration is set to exacerbate geopolitical tensions in various ways. Experts say ostracism and supplies insecurity from climate disasters will magnify migration and refugee crises and political unrest. Climate-induced changes to the physical environment will unshut new points of conflict, such as with resource scarcity and the opening of new strategic waterways in the Arctic.

Recently, climate discussions have moreover begun to largest unclose national security risks in the wipe energy shift needed to gainsay climate change. Ongoing trade tensions and decoupling trends have exposed how current untried energy supply villenage can be dominated by adversaries, seen in the US solar industry’s reliance on Chinese solar panels and Beijing’s significant tenancy of rare earths production.


  • US federal agencies released climate version and resilience plans in October 2021, as part of the Biden administration’s tideway to climate change. The plans include efforts to safeguard federal investments like military installations from climate hazards, develop increasingly resilient supply chains, and expand knowledge on how climate transpiration impacts specific organ missions.
  • The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates funding to make US infrastructure increasingly resilient to the impacts of climate change. The legislation makes a key investment of over $50 billion to protect infrastructure from wildfires, heat and floods, withal with $4.5 billion for drought preparedness.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act will intrust $369 billion to build the wipe energy industry, with $270 billion delivered as climate tax incentives. The law is considered the most important climate legislation in US history. The Office of Management and Budget says the Inflation Reduction Act could cut social financing of climate change by $1.9 trillion by 2050.


The Cipher Brief tapped Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate Security and Senior Strategist at the Center for Climate and Security Sherri Goodman, Principal at KJM Analytics and former CIA Senior Executive Karen Monaghan and Co-Founder and Chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator Maureen Hinman, who was moreover a presenter on the state of climate and national security risk at this year’s The Cipher Brief Threat Conference.

Sherri Goodman, Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate Security, Senior Strategist, Center for Climate and Security

Sherri Goodman serves as Chair of the Board at the Council on Strategic Risks, whose Institutes include the Center on Climate & Security and the International Military Council on Climate Security. She is moreover Vice Chair, Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, and Senior Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Polar Institute and Environmental Transpiration and Security Program. She served as the first US Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security.

Karen Monaghan, Principal, KJM Analytics LLC

Karen Monaghan is a former senior executive with the CIA, where among her positions she served as the National Intelligence Officer for Economics. She has served as a consultant to Deloitte since 2018.

Maureen Hinman, Co-Founder and Chairman, Silverado Policy Accelerator

Maureen Hinman formerly served as Director for Environment and Natural Resources at the Office of the United States Trade Representative. She was moreover the US Department of Commerce’s senior industry trade specialist on international policy minutiae and interagency sponsorship for the US environmental technology industry.

Expert Perspective

The Cipher Brief: How are we doing in bringing sustainability to our security policies?

Monaghan: We’re making progress on untried energy initiatives and climate transpiration initiatives as a country, but I don’t think we’re any much different. I don’t think we’ve kind of melded the two. I think we understand the implications of climate change, lattermost weather, but I don’t think it rises to the level of urgency that we might think it should. There’s a lot of talk well-nigh urgency if there’s some big hurricane or whatever, but then it kind of falls off the radar.

Climate change, pandemic, it’s an actorless threat, and it’s a lot harder to pin it on an enemy. That’s kind of how we still think in terms of national security. “Who’s the adversary?” I think we’re getting there, but I think we still have a ways to go.

Goodman: I’d say there’s a greater recognition of the security implications of climate transpiration today than there was decades ago considering lives and livelihoods are stuff lost on a daily basis. Societies like Pakistan are stuff destabilized with every increasing catastrophic inflowing event that mixes in with the other instabilities in society, in a weak governing system that once had inequities in supplies and water distribution, that’s nuclear armed, that’s subject to a lot of outside influences, taking wholesomeness of vulnerable populations.

We now see that climate transpiration is a threat multiplier in every region of the world and that it magnifies all the existing security threats we face. It makes things increasingly complicated in this world of cascading and recipe risks.

Hinman: We are starting to ask the right questions well-nigh what the inherent security risks are to shifting to a wipe energy matrix. For a very long time, climate transpiration security risk discussions have been limited to how waffly weather and climatic events might act as an accelerant to existing global risks by increasing the likelihood of things like energy and water shortages or yield collapse. We are now pivoting toward the essential questions of the security risks posed by the transition and wipe energy system. Those questions include: What are the systemic geopolitical risks of wipe energy technologies? What are the vigilant technology and supply uniting risks for wipe energy? What are the systemic vulnerabilities of the wipe energy economy? And finally, what types of alliances must we foster today to visualize and short-circuit the risks of tomorrow?

The Cipher Brief: How has the Ukraine war impacted the shift to wipe energy?

Monaghan: The Russian invasion of Ukraine on the one hand has raised issues about, or prompted some to say that this could slide a transition. Even the IEA said that. But I think a lot depends on what this winter looks like for Europe. I mean, once we’ve seen demand for coal increase. There have been public calls in a number of countries for increasingly investments in fossil fuels to heat, and not so many calls for investments in sustainable energy, like solar power, for a variety of reasons. Even surpassing the invasion last year, coal use globally was once surging to record levels. 80 percent of the world’s energy is still derived from fossil fuels. I think we have a long way to go. I think when you have something kinetic going on, that kind of rises much higher in the national security realm.

Goodman: ​​​Although there’s still some near term needs, there’s a pledge in the EU to go completely off Russian oil and to move off Russian gas as well and, at the same time, to slide the energy transition. So I think Putin’s energy strategy, if you have an energy strategy in this war, has backfired on him in the sense that the Russian economy is tightly dependent on its exports of oil and gas.

And at the same time, that posed a shock to Europe. If it’s a unprepossessed winter in Europe, there could be some hardship in terms of energy supplies. And European countries have asked their citizens to conserve and to be increasingly energy efficient, which we all should. We unchangingly forget that efficiency is the fourth fuel in the process. Efficiency is unchangingly the cheapest fuel. The less you need, the increasingly you have to do other things.

So I think ironically, Putin’s war has helped us to slide into the energy transition considering now one can increasingly unmistakably see the promise of electrification of vehicle fleets of cars, and we can increasingly unmistakably see the promise of a distributed energy grid so that you’re not as vulnerable to attacks on a big internal grid.

Hinman: Many have been operating on the false premise that the wipe energy transition can be executed powerfully with renewable energy sources alone. The Ukraine war and energy slipperiness have completely unraveled that notion. While it has been painful, and the human financing of this unconscionable war have been dear, ultimately, the lessons learned well-nigh the vulnerabilities in untried energy transitions and systems may lead to a increasingly constructive and secure wipe energy system in the long-term. These lessons include a renewed understanding of the necessity for wipe baseload technologies, like nuclear reactors, and a largest understanding of the risks of supply uniting disruptions to energy systems. As ever, we need energy that is secure, sustainable, and resilient.

The Cipher Brief: China suspended climate talks with the US in August over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The two sides later decided at COP27 to restart dialogues on climate. With this in mind, how does climate fit into US-China relations?

Monaghan: I think part of the reason the US was interested in restarting talks is not just considering the need for China to write its emissions issue, but considering so many of the other issues that we’re dealing with China on are so tense — trade issues, the whole fries and semiconductors issue, and tensions over Taiwan without a number of visits by political leaders in the US. I think both the US and China were looking for an thoroughfare to be constructive on.

I’m not optimistic that they’re going to make a lot of progress. The fact that they’re unquestionably going to protract to talk is progress, and is an important development. Again, I think part of it is to wastefulness out some of the other really deep tensions, expressly on semiconductors and the bans versus Chinese technology in US manufacturing. It’s sort of scrutinizingly at a state of war. We’re declaring war versus the Chinese economy. So, let’s have a nice conversation well-nigh something that we can stipulate on that needs to be done.

Goodman: There are really three specific ways China could cooperate now that would make a difference. The first is China could join the global methane pledge, and that would help us tackle the most potent greenhouse gas.

Second, one of the other achievements or steps towards achievements at COP27 was some new creative ways of climate financing and recognizing that the way in which multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF have typically granted loans for projects incurs too much debt. They’re rethinking well-nigh how to finance or to provide some loan forgiveness in that. China could be part of that and be part of promoting new creative ways of climate financing.

And then third is promoting global trade in untried technologies. In the energy transition, the US and China stand to proceeds a lot economically from the energy transition, from the growth in renewables, and both economies have slightly variegated strengths in that. China has traditionally had increasingly strength in manufacturing. The US has traditionally had increasingly strength in entrepreneurship and innovation in the very technology development. That will matter in making increasingly technologies untried and making renewable technologies misogynist to a wider global market at a price that those who are still living in energy poverty can afford.

Hinman: I think the most important thing that the US can do to slide results from US-Sino climate talks is to develop a set of strategic economic policies to create incentives for China to meet its commitments under the Paris Accords and build yearing in the future. A Carbon Border Adjustment (CBA) policy in the United States could go a long way to create market incentives for China to decarbonize.

More critically, I think the United States needs to remain clear-eyed well-nigh the moral risks of trading yonder human rights to meet climate goals. Despite public pressure to provide an exception for solar panels, the Department of Homeland Security has been formidable in defending our values by standing to halt solar imports from Xinjiang. The US cannot enter a meaningful climate dialogue from a position of strength if the CCP sees that we’re willing to trade our morals for unseemly solar panels made-up in concentration camps.

The Cipher Brief: What are some risks we squatter in towers out untried energy supply chains?

Goodman: In hair-trigger mineral supply villenage — for things like cobalt, and lithium, and other rare earth minerals — China is one of the world’s major global producers of those minerals. The US and others are now trying to expand the places in which those minerals can be mined and accessed to friendlier countries from Australia, to Chile, to Canada. Even in the US, we’re looking at doing increasingly mining. But it’s not just the mining, it’s the whole supply chain. It’s the processing, the extraction, and the various segments of the hair-trigger mineral supply uniting that need to be knit together in a way that reduces the risks of any one point of it stuff too overly concentrated.

Monaghan: The raw materials needed for untried energy projects are often found in parts of the world that are inhospitable. There’s a upper concentration that are only in a few countries, many of whom are rivals, many of whom have been wooed, particularly by China, over the last decade. We’re playing reservation up in the United States to start wooing these countries, and encouraging them to produce these raw materials and provide unshut wangle on the global market.

Let’s just take a mining company, for example, in the DRC. It may be a national mining company, but China does the development. China’s funding the extraction and/or the refining. It’s marketed through a global minerals trading visitor such as Glencore. It’s very well-matured in a few hands. Add onto that, in some of these countries you have zippy sort of starchy war situations such as the DRC.

For all that we’re going to need to build in terms of batteries and whatever, it’s not that there’s not unbearable minerals. They’re unquestionably in fewer hands than you would realize. I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if we had an OPEC of untried energy minerals, at some point. Countries and companies get together and form some kind of a cartel.

Ten years ago, we were all talking well-nigh the death of OPEC. Well, now it’s in some ways increasingly powerful than ever. Ten, fifteen years ago, most people would’ve said, “Oh, OPEC’s a thing of the past” considering of fracking in the United States. Things change. When you have tightness in the fossil fuel market, those who didn’t have as much power ten, fifteen years ago, all of a sudden sally increasingly powerful again.

Hinman: The most firsthand issue with wipe energy is where we are sourcing our technologies and upstream mineral supply chains.

Two hair-trigger security risks sally here: First, we should be worried well-nigh sourcing energy and grid technologies from adversaries. I am unchangingly concerned well-nigh the potential for national champions or state-owned enterprises programming in skiver switches to the energy hair-trigger technologies they sell us. Second, the increasing concentration of mineral processing and hair-trigger componentry to a single point of failure in the supply uniting is an lattermost risk we have been living with for some time.

For the past twenty years or so we were worldly-wise to squeeze so much efficiency out of the global economy that we forgot to worth for the risk of handing one party a hair-trigger node in the energy supply chain. The upside of recent supply uniting disruptions is that everyone understands this now, but it will take time to turn this ship and diversify supply chains. I’m concerned whether we have unbearable runway to execute on this transition in time to deter mismatch in East Asia in particular.

Cipher Brief writer Ethan Masucol contributed to this report.

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