It is ironic, then, that Denmark in December 2009 hosted the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP 15 promised much but fizzled quickly, leading some to joke that its rancorous hot air only worsened global warming. President Barack Obama found little to praise, saying its best result was that not too much backsliding occurred.
Security was on the Copenhagen agenda, where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton labeled climate change a threat to the environment, the economy, and security. The Department of Defense, which conceptualizes climate change as a geostrategic trend, sponsored a national-security panel at which Navy Oceanographer and Task Force Climate Change director Rear Admiral David Titley spoke on risks and opportunities in a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, where even old friends like the United States and Canada may become rivals. Task Force Climate Change, a multi-disciplinary, joint, inter-agency advisory body chartered in 2009, makes recommendations to Navy policy, strategy, force structure, and investment. It works closely with Task Force Energy, whose security and conservation aims are targeted on Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus's ambitious goals for carbon-footprint reduction afloat and ashore.
Conflict over new sea lines of communication and resources at the top of the world is not the only concern. Climate change, a 2007 study predicts, will increase tensions in stable regions and make volatile regions even more unstable. Infertile, inhospitable conditions may prove fertile and hospitable to extremist ideology and inviting to transnational crime. In these conditions, governments weak and strong, alone and together, will struggle to maintain order, deliver humanitarian relief, and create economic opportunity. Lack of resiliency makes low-level internal and regional conflict foreseeable.
Heavy human, monetary, and environmental costs will tax the poorest and weakest most. Fifty million or more environmental refugees are predicted soon, reaching 200 million or more by 2050. President Obama noted in his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: "It is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action—it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance."
The 2008 National Defense Strategy conceives of climate change merely as cause for uncertainty. Going further, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act requires the DOD to consider effects on facilities, capabilities, and missions, and to incorporate climate change in operational planning and the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review ( QDR ).
The Navy stands out among the services in its QDR input, giving climate change careful consideration. The just-released QDR includes this factor among the four areas where reform is imperative, and directs a strategic approach to addressing the impacts.
Of climate change, too much and too little can be made. Thus far, it's been too little. Though some still too easily dismiss it, the problem demands urgent, unwavering attention. Guided by the QDR and facilitated by Task Force Climate Change and Task Force Energy, the Navy must continue to steer a smart course. It's time for the other services to join up.