The 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE; PDF), recently released by Joint Forces Command, offers a slightly more robust assessment on the implications of climate change for the Joint Force than its 2008 report (PDF). As Christine pointed out yesterday, while the JOE “in no way constitutes U.S. government policy and must necessarily be speculative in nature, it seeks to provide the Joint Force an intellectual foundation upon which we will construct the concepts to guide our future force development.”
Most of the climate change section reads nearly identical between the two versions, though the 2010 version offers more on the near-term challenges posed by climate change and is telling of what the Joint Force is paying particular attention to when it comes to potential implications for the military.
On Climate Science:
JOE 2008 (p. 22)
The impact of global warming and its potential to cause natural disasters and other harmful phenomena such as rising sea levels has become a prominent—and controversial—national and international concern. Some argue that there will be more and greater storms and natural disasters, others that there will be fewer. In many respects, scientific conclusions about the causes and potential effects of global warming are contradictory.
JOE 2010 (p.32)
The impact of climate change, specifically global warming and its potential to cause natural disasters and other harmful phenomena such as rising sea levels, has become a concern. Scientific conclusions about the potential effects of climate change are contradictory, with some arguing that there will be more and greater storms and natural disasters: others, that there will be fewer.
While the 2010 JOE seems to play down the controversial debate undergirding climate science (literally removing the word “controversial” that was present in the 2008 JOE), the notion that there is an ongoing debate about what climate science is telling us about potential impacts of climate change lingers. Perhaps the next assessment could couch this differently by mentioning the need for climate science that offers the level of detail and fidelity that would be useful to the Joint Force to make decisions about the implications of climate change.
On Challenges in the Current and Future Security Environment
JOE 2008 (p. 22)
Whatever their provenance, tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes have been and will continue to be a concern of joint force commanders. In particular, where natural disasters collide with growing urban sprawl, widespread human misery could be the final straw that breaks the back of a weak state. In the 2030s as in the past, the ability of U.S. military forces to relieve the victims of natural disasters could help the United States’ image around the world. For example, the contribution of U.S. and partner forces to relieving the distress caused by the catastrophic Pacific tsunami of December 2006 reversed the perceptions of America held by many Indonesians. Perhaps no other mission performed by the Joint Force provides so much benefit to the interests of the United States at so little cost.
JOE 2010 (p. 33)
In this regard, tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes have been and will continue to be a concern of Joint Force commanders. In particular, where natural disasters collide with growing urban sprawl, widespread human misery could be the final straw that breaks the back of a weak state. Furthermore, if such a catastrophe occurs within the United States itself – particularly when the nation’s economy is in a fragile state or where U.S. military bases or key civilian infrastructure are broadly affected – the damage to U.S. security could be considerable. Areas of the U.S. where the potential is great to suffer large-scale effects from these natural disasters are the hurricane prone areas of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and the earthquake zones on the west coast and along the New Madrid fault. (emphasis mine) In the 2030s, as in the past, the ability of U.S. military forces to relieve the victims of natural disasters will impact the reputation of the United States in the world. For example, the contribution of U.S. and partner forces to relieve the distress caused by the catastrophic Pacific tsunami of December 2004 reversed the perceptions of America held by many Indonesians. Perhaps no other mission performed by the Joint Force provides so much benefit to the interests of the United States at so little cost.
It is interesting to note the particular attention that the 2010 JOE gives to possible impacts on the domestic United States and the implications that could have on our economy (“…particularly when the nation’s economy is in a fragile state or where U.S. military bases or key civilian infrastructure are broadly affected…”).
On the Arctic and Sea Level Rise
The 2008 JOE does not mention the Arctic or sea level rise at all. To me, this may be telling of where the Joint Force is focusing particular attention. Indeed, as Christine writes in her recent working paper, Promoting the Dialogue: Climate Change and the Maritime Services, the Arctic is gaining a lot of attention from the Navy and the Coast Guard, in part, “because there are tangible, measurable changes occurring in that region today,” and is likely the biggest near-term challenge. Indeed, the near-term, tangible impacts of sea level rise are also apparent today, which may be why it is an issue that is gaining attention from the Joint Force.
JOE 2010 (pp. 32-33)
Climate change is included as one of the ten trends most likely to impact the Joint Force. For example, sea ice has been shrinking dramatically in Arctic regions each summer, and in the future this could open new shipping routes across archipelagic Canada and Northern Russia that could dramatically shorten transit times between Europe and Northeast Asia. Furthermore, shrinking sea ice opens new areas for natural resource exploitation, and may raise tensions between Arctic nations over the demarcation of exclusive economic zones and between Arctic nations and maritime states over the designation of important new waterways as international straits or internal waters. As an early move in this new competition, in 2007 two Russian submersibles made an unprecedented dive 2.5 miles to the arctic sea floor, where one ship dropped a titanium capsule containing a Russian flag. Retreating ice creating access to previously unavailable natural resources is but one example of potential security challenges that did not exist in the past.
Global sea levels have been on the rise for the past 100 years. Some one-fifth of the world’s population as well as one-sixth of the land area of the world’s largest urban areas are located in coastal zones less than ten meters above sea level. Furthermore, populations in these coastal areas are growing faster than national averages. In places such as China and Bangladesh, this growth is twice that of the national average. Should global sea levels continue to rise at current rates, these areas will see more extensive flooding and increased saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers upon which coastal populations rely, compounding the impact of increasing shortages of fresh water. Additionally, local population pressures will increase as people move away from inundated areas and settle farther up-country.