Climate change alone would not topple governments, he said. But it could worsen problems such as poverty, disease, migration and hunger, creating conditions that could destabilize already vulnerable areas, Fingar said.
But he warned that efforts to reduce global warming by changing energy policies “may affect U.S. national security interests even more than the physical impacts of climate change itself.”
“The operative word there is ‘may,’ we don’t know,” Fingar said.
The assessment of global climate change through 2030 is one in a series of periodic intelligence reports that offer the consensus of top analysts at all 16 spy agencies on foreign policy, security and global economic issues. Congress requested the report last year. The assessment is classified as confidential.
It predicts that the United States and most of its allies will have the means to cope with climate change economically. Unspecified “regional partners” could face severe problems.
Fingar said the quality of the analysis is hampered by the fact that climate data tend not to focus on specific countries but on broad global changes. For that reason, the intelligence agencies have only low to moderate confidence in the assessment.
Africa is seen as among the most vulnerable regions. An expected increase in droughts there could cut agricultural yields of rain-dependent crops by up to half over the next 12 years.
Parts of Asia’s food crops are vulnerable to droughts and floods, with rice and grain crops potentially facing up to a 10 percent decline by 2025.
As many as 50 million additional people could face hunger by 2020. The water supply, while larger because of melting glaciers, will be under pressure from a growing population and increased consumption. Between 120 million and 1.2 billion people in Asia “will continue to experience some water stress.”
Latin America may experience increased precipitation, possibly cutting tens of millions of people from the ranks of those in need of water. But from 7 million to 77 million people could be short of water resources because of population growth.
Fingar’s statement strikes a considerably less ominous tone than a report issued a year ago by the Center for Naval Analyses.
Rep. Edward Markey, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, accused the White House of trying to “bury the future security realities of global warming” in Fingar’s prepared statement. Markey, D-Mass., received a briefing on the classified assessment, which he said is “first-class.”
Fingar said no one in the White House changed any of his public testimony.
The center’s report, by retired military leaders, drew a direct correlation between global warming and the conditions that lead failed states to become the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.
“Climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror,” said Adm. T. Joseph Lopez, who commanded U.S. and allied peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in 1996.
“Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies,” the center’s report said. “The U.S. will be drawn more frequently into these situations,” according to the report, which drew on 11 retired generals and admirals.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the request for the intelligence agencies’ report was “a dangerous diversion of intelligence assets.” He said the issue should be studied by climate scientists, not intelligence agencies.
Republicans used the hearing to argue for domestic oil drilling and nuclear power to reduce reliance on foreign energy.