(CNSNews.com) – In the light of controversies swirling around the U.N.’s climate change body, a retired top military officer urged President Obama Wednesday to set up an independent expert commission to examine the much-touted link between climate change and national security.
“It is too important an issue to be driven by unsubstantiated claims, tainted by scandal and to result in counterproductive policies,” Adm. James Lyons, Jr., former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a letter to the president.
Lyons cited the “climategate” data-manipulation scandal and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s retraction of an assertion in a key 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.
The glacier claim features prominently in the debate about climate change and national security.
Lyons, who is chairman of the Center for Security Policy’s military committee, suggested that climate change policies could have a detrimental effect on the military.
“To the extent, for example, that the national response to climate change makes energy more expensive and less available, and distracts the military and national security agencies from their core mission of keeping America safe, it could very well be that the true threat to national security is not climate change, but our response to it,” he wrote.
In a separate statement released by the Center for Security Policy, Lyons said that before policies were adopted that affect military preparedness, “it is imperative that we act on honest assessments of the best available information.”
“When it comes to the climate change-national security link and the cap-and-trade legislation now being considered by Congress, any confidence in scientific pronouncements that may have existed in 2009 does not exist in 2010,” he added.
Although Lyons voiced concern that Obama may use the State of the Union later in the day to “frame climate change as a national security issue to prod Congress into passing cap-and-trade legislation,” the president did not do so. (Obama did urge Congress to pass legislation and said he was “eager to help” in the Senate, but did not cite the national security argument.)
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, denied suggestion that the effort to pass the climate legislation would be put on the back burner as a result of recent changes in the Senate composition.
“We are not scaling back our efforts,” he told a climate forum on Capitol Hill. “We have not changed our goals one bit.”
In an almost 2,000-word statement, Kerry made no reference to the recent IPCC scandals. He did stress that “the science keeps growing, not diminishing.”
Citing the national security-climate link, Kerry disclosed that a Pentagon quadrennial defense review due for release next week would, for the first time, list climate change “as an instability factor that affects our troops and may, in fact, end up costing us lives down the road because of what happens to our readiness and to our posterity.”
‘Scientists are now warning …’
In discussions about the national security implications of climate change, one of the issues that has most resonated deals with concerns that the major water sources for South Asia – Himalayan glaciers – are rapidly retreating.
Hundreds of millions of people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere depend on water from rivers whose sources are in the Himalayas.
Advocates have argued that the effect of the glacier retreat on regional water supplies will dramatically exacerbate existing conflicts in the region, particularly between India and Pakistan over disputed Kashmir, and could result in millions of “climate refugees” in some of the world’s most populous countries.
Such effects would clearly have significant security ramifications.
At the center of the debate has been the startling claim, contained in the IPCC’s 2007 report, that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.
It recently emerged that the statement originated not from peer-reviewed scientific analysis but from a 2005 report by an environmental advocacy group, which in turn cited two 1999 news reports, which themselves apparently misrepresented one non peer-reviewed study (in which the 2035 claim did not even appear.)
The IPCC last week confirmed the claim was unsound, should not have made it into the report, and withdrew it.
Speaking on the national security implications of climate change, Kerry has referred a number of time to the now-discredited 2035 claim.
Chairing a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-China climate change cooperation last June, he said in an opening statement, “scientists are now warning that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply water to almost a billion people, could disappear completely by 2035.”
A month later, the claim made a re-appearance as Kerry opened another hearing, on climate change and global security: “Nowhere is the nexus between today’s threats and climate change more acute than in South Asia – the home of al-Qaeda and the center of our terrorist threat. Scientists are now warning that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply water to almost a billion people from China to Afghanistan, could disappear completely by 2035.”
And in a speech at George Washington University in September, Kerry repeated it: “Nowhere is the nexus between today’s threats and climate change stronger than in South Asia – the center of our counterterrorist operations and the home of al-Qaeda. Scientists are now warning that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply water to almost a billion people from China to Afghanistan – including three nuclear powers – could disappear completely by 2035.”
The 2035 has also found its way into other assessments of security and climate change.
For instance, a 2007 CNA Corporation report entitled “National security and the threat of climate change” includes a passage stating, “Forty percent of the world’s population derives at least half of its drinking water from the summer melt of mountain glaciers, but these glaciers are shrinking and some could disappear within decades. Several of Asia’s major rivers – the Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow – originate in the Himalayas …”
The footnote reference given by CNA Corp. is a 1999 Christian Science Monitor report which reproduced a quote given in one of the two news stories at the source of the erroneous claim in the IPCC report: “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world … if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 is very high.”
In a Foreign Policy article last June on climate change and security Stephan Faris, the author of Forecast: The Surprising – and Immediate – Consequences of Climate Change wrote, “if global warming continues at its current rate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, the glaciers could be mostly gone from the mountains by 2035.”
‘Glacier claim the poster child for security argument’
Testifying before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing last October, Heritage Foundation scholar James Jay Carafano argued that the real climate change-related security concern was the financial cost of climate change legislation before Congress.
“While the long-term impacts of climate change on national security can be debated, the short-term impact of legislation to curb emissions is more readily apparent,” he told the panel, citing a study by the foundation’s Center for Data Analysis on a similar House law which found it would make the U.S. about $9.4 trillion poorer by 2035.
“A sharp decline in economic productivity would like have a deleterious impact on U.S. security,” he said.
Writing on the Heritage blog this week, Carafano described the claim about melting glaciers in South Asia as “the poster child for the national security nightmare argument.”
Now that it had been found to be bogus, he said, “I hate to say, ‘I told you so,’ but I did.”