Head Of U.S. Pacific Forces: Climate Change Is Biggest Threat To Region’s Security


The Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command has identified climate change as the most likely threat to the Pacific region, as ThinkProgress reported:

Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, gave a striking answer when asked about the greatest threat the region faces: climate change.

Locklear told the <Boston Globe that the changing climate “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”

Among the issues that the Admiral cited as most concerning was the possibility that rising sea-levels result in the disappearance of whole countries, producing influxes of ‘climate refugees’ in neighboring states.

It’s surprising to hear the head of PACOM talk so starkly about the threats we face from climate change, but not surprising to hear this from the military. In 2010, the Quadrennial Defense Review made it clear that climate change impacts U.S. military resources:

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas.

Peter Sinclair made a good video on national security impacts in 2010:

Most of those interviewed in that video are retired or former military, which makes Admiral Lockclear’s comments that much more striking.

It’s good to see climate hasn’t slipped from all national security considerations. Last year the CIA closed down its Center on Climate Change and National Security which opened in 2009.

Admiral Locklear went on to describe in his interview how important it was to coordinate multilaterally with China and India to respond to climate impacts:

“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”

The US military, he said, is beginning to reach out to other armed forces in the region about the issue.

“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue — even with China and India — the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.”

If the American, Chinese, and Indian militaries are coordinating on responding to the threats of climate impacts, perhaps the militaries could provide some support to other bilateral and multilateral efforts that have stalled on climate in the past.