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U.S.: Climate Change May Pose Biggest Security Threat

WASHINGTON, Jul 1 2011 (IPS) - As a budget battle rages on in the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama’s military budget comes under increasingly harsh scrutiny, a report released here Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies suggests that reallocating defence spending towards tackling climate change might be the only solution to the administration’s woes.

“[The] president speaks beautifully on the need to change our relationship with the rest of the world but the budget itself hasn’t fulfilled the promise of that rhetoric,” Miriam Pemberton, co-author of “The United Security Budget for the United States, FY 2012” report and research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.

“The bottom line is that the current [desire] for deficit reduction provides a strong opening to really get serious about making military cuts. Moving money into non-military foreign engagement will do a lot to underwrite and make real the administration’s promises,” Pemberton added.

The report, released annually since 2004 and supported by a task force of prominent military and civilian experts, claims that “The Defense Department has begun to recognize climate change as a major security threat even as federal government funding to address the issue has begun to be cut in FY 2012.”

Though Obama threw his weight behind climate efforts in 2009 under the stimulus American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), that support has now slowed to a trickle at a time when even mainstream observers are taking seriously the impacts of mega-floods, severe droughts and rapidly melting icecaps.

In his recent article “Climate Denial: can science and the truth withstand the merchants of poison?”, former vice president Al Gore blasted Obama for failing to speak out vehemently against ongoing and impending climate catastrophes, referring to the dumping of 90 million tonnes of heat-trapping emissions into the earth’s atmosphere every 24 hours as potentially destructive to “human civilisation” as we know it.

Citing statistics from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Gore wrote that “2010 was tied with 2005 as the hottest year measured since…the 1880s.” As a result of such over- heating, the Arctic ice cap lost a full 40 percent of its area over the last three decades, he added.

Adding fodder to the argument that action is needed, the Global Governance Project estimates that by the year 2050, the world will have 200 million climate-displaced refugees on its hands, the majority of them from low-lying coastal areas, as a result of rising water levels.

“All of these interconnected threats, especially climate-induced destabilisation of certain parts of the world, pose a threat to U.S. national security – particularly in the long term,” Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told IPS.

However, says Pemberton, the U.S. government’s budget scarcely does justice to the urgency of the situation.

The overall budget dedicated to tackling climate change dropped from 33.2 billion dollars for FY 2011 to 27.6 billion dollars in FY 2012 – a nearly 17 percent decline in federal support, at a time when “substantially more support is needed”, the report said.

The authors went on to recommend that the federal government invest at least 50 billion dollars a year in energy efficiency and renewable energy, leveraged to encourage a further 100 billion dollars worth of investments from the private sector.

With total public and private expenditures of 150 billion dollars annually – accounting for one percent of GDP and eight percent of total private investment – the report’s authors believe that the U.S. economy has a “reasonable chance” of attaining Obama’s vision of reducing carbon emissions in the country to 4,200 metric tonnes by 2030.

“Such a reallocation of resources from ‘offensive’ to ‘preventative’ measures really does double duty,” Pemberton told IPS.

“It reduces our dependence on foreign oil and thus on the whims of dictators who sit atop those oil reserves, while at the same time paying dividends in the form of job creation in the domestic economy,” she added.

Last year, Pemberton authored the Institute for Policy Studies’ annual “Military Vs. Climate Security” report, which found that the ratio of military spending to climate spending dropped from 94:1 to 41:1.

“This is progress, obviously,” Pemberton wrote. “But a shift of one percent of the military budget does not come close to bringing climate security investment in line with the magnitude of the threat.”

“Climate change is…only going to get worse,” Pemberton told IPS, “And the military forces are going to be strained to the breaking point in their efforts to deal with it.”

“We need a budget process that looks at our security challenges as a whole, and allocates resources in a way that matches the lip service everyone in government pays to the co-equal importance of military and non-military tools,” she added.

Former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates himself identified imbalances in military spending back in 2008, going so far as to claim that “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long… relative to what we spend on the military.”

But far from being scaled down, the military continues to operate on a 700-billion-dollar annual budget, the report shows.

“There is plenty [here] that can be trimmed,” said Lawrence Korb, co- author of the report and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “The report details 77 billion dollars of the lowest hanging fruit.”

Some of the suggested “trade-offs” between what the report terms “offensive” and “preventative” expenditures include the 2.41-billion- dollar allotment for a second Virginia Class Submarine versus meeting the State Department’s request for 2.14 billion dollars for Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities account; or continuing the 1.3 billion dollars of annual aid to Egypt’s military at the expense of investing in the country’s burgeoning post- revolution economy.

“These are the kind of trade-offs our lawmakers should be considering – decisions about what kind of spending will really make us and the rest of the world safer,” Pemberton argued.

*With additional reporting by Lily Hough.

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