Christine WoodClimate Editor, Cipher Brief
Kristen Wood is the senior climate editor for The Cipher Brief, expert Cipher Brief, a nonresident fellow with the Belfer Project of the Harvard Kennedy School of Science and International Affairs, and a former senior CIA officer with 20 years of experience in analysis, operations, innovation, and technology.
Irene SikorskyDeputy Director of the Center for Climate and Security
Irene Sikorsky is the Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), Director of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), and Assistant Professor at the Shar School of Politics and Government at George Mason University. Previously, she held the position of deputy director of the Strategic Future Group at the US National Intelligence Council (NIC). Ms. Sikorsky has served in the US intelligence community for more than a decade.
Expert Perspective – President Biden Jan 27 Executive order The EO on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad demonstrates a strong commitment to preparing the United States to tackle the climate crisis. He is appointing experienced climate experts to powerful new roles and issuing wide-ranging orders for the entire government response. This article analyzes aspects of the intelligence community in an EO.
For national security agencies, the Ethics Office orders agencies to conduct an evaluation within 90 days:
– climate impacts related to the Agency’s broad strategies in specific countries or regions;
– climatic impacts on the infrastructure that their agencies run abroad (such as embassies and military installations), without prejudice to the current requirements regarding the evaluation of this infrastructure;
– How does the agency intend to manage such impacts or incorporate risk mitigation into its installation master plans; And the
How the Agency’s international work, including the engagement of partners, can contribute to addressing the climate crisis.
Maximizing the effectiveness of the individual responses of 18 international cooperation agencies on the EO requires a coordinated strategy. While the Ethics Office calls for a national intelligence assessment on climate change, representing coordinated analysis across agencies is only one piece of the puzzle.
Building a true climate security intelligence strategy will require an assessment of how the ICRC’s core tasks of collection and analysis can contribute to addressing climate threats. This will require an assessment of the ICRC’s staff, programs and policies as well as what is missing, what needs adjustment, and what new skills, capacities and resources will be required.
The overriding question for collection and analysis is: What decision advantage can the International Committee provide to the president when it comes to climate issues? What unique climate change information can the intelligence community gather and analyze that will serve the national security of the United States? Are there new forms of collection and analysis, especially the required scientific analysis? How can the unique capabilities of the CIA be leveraged, for example? The rigorous process aimed at answering these questions should consider the new requirements that must be imposed, what new sources HUMINT, SIGINT and other collectors need to find, and what partnerships need to be deepened or established.
To conduct this assessment, we suggest the creation of an ODNI National Security and Climate Change Task Force that looks at each agency’s contributions to the EO and brings them together into an integrated climate approach across all missions. The Blue Ribbon Committee of climate and security experts outside and within government will provide a fresh perspective on how the ICRC can best contribute to addressing this mission. In addition to providing expertise that is often found outside of the IC, external participants will be a test of the agencies’ tendencies, which we have gone through many times over the decades, to rename existing entities with a new name as an answer to operational requirements.
This task force will likely identify the necessary adjustments to IC spending, personnel, and infrastructure. Additional leadership positions or new structures within agencies may be required to implement the task force’s recommendations in the long term. For example, better integration of modeling and climate data, open source collection, and disaggregated information may require new tools and new teams for full implementation. In addition to adjustments made to its collection and analysis processes, the ICRC must also consider the direct risks of climate change to its facilities and infrastructure. Therefore, the task force should include a sub-committee on climate resilience and adaptation of the ICRC with funding, facilities and security expertise.
Below we present some of the issues the task force could consider, drawn from engagements with hundreds of experts on climate security issues over the past few years:
- The capabilities and talent of the strategic foresight and early warning IC have diminished over time due to other priorities. They are urgently needed to support threat prediction and preparedness around a range of intersecting risks associated with climate change, from water and food insecurity, regional conflicts, infectious diseases and natural disasters. The work of world trends – often coming down to the material and figurative basement – needs to be front and center. The Biden administration has already indicated prioritizing a more integrated approach to monitoring global threats by calling for the establishment of a National Center for Epidemic Prediction and Disease Outbreak Analytics to modernize global early warning systems and operate biological prevention, detection and response systems. Threats. The kinds of contributions the ICRC makes to such a climate security center can and should be replicated.
- Climate security risks also create opportunities to use the CIA’s unique external partnerships in new ways. The CIA stations and bases will be ideal leadership points for the Partnership on Climate Change, allowing the agency to leverage existing communications relationships to generate expectations that no one else can. The CIA can play a critical role in helping US policymakers understand the plans and intentions of other countries to respond to climate security threats. Additionally, climate change could be an area of partnership with countries such as Russia and China.
- While conducting climate science within the US government will remain the prerogative of science agencies like NOAA, NASA, and others, IC agencies need more staff with scientific knowledge and backgrounds. At a minimum, the agencies will need more climate scientists in their teams and closer partnerships with them so that deep scientific understanding is included in the requirements for compilation and analytical writing.
Finally, we note that the National Climate Action Task Force established by the Ethics Office does not include DNI as a member. While this appears to be a logical option as the team focuses locally, the truth is that the division between external and internal operations does not work for climate. For example, the ICRC can answer foreign policy and homeland security questions on topics such as the potential for expanded climate migration to the borders of the United States, actual achievement versus meeting other countries’ climate goals, among many others. The ICRC can also use its unique capabilities to understand how other actors respond to the impacts of climate change – that is, not just what they will do in emissions negotiations, but explain how issues such as water scarcity concerns drive Chinese foreign policy in the region.
As President Biden said when signing the Climate Executive Order last month, his action has made “it official that climate change will be the center of our national security and foreign policy.” The security threats posed by climate change are increasing with each passing day, and addressing them requires innovation and new concepts of national security. As has happened many times before, in relation to many different threats, the ICRC can and should step up to play a leading and transformative role on climate security risks, integrating across missions to provide the most insightful analysis possible in support of the president’s direction and in service to the American people.
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