On September 27th, Woodwell Climate scientists and policy experts from the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) conducted a briefing on climate security risks in Iran and Türkiye. The presentation, hosted in the Capitol, drew in a crowd of interested congressional staffers to learn more about the relationship between the worsening climate crisis and national security issues.
This was the second of two such collaborative briefings, following a presentation to members of executive branch agencies, including the State Department, Department of Defense, US Institute of Peace, National Intelligence Council, and the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, earlier in the month. Alex Naegele, a postdoctoral researcher with the Climate Risk Program at Woodwell, presented the results of two risk analyses produced in collaboration with CCS. The analyses used model projections to examine the impacts of climate change on rainfall, water scarcity, and wildfire.
Security experts from CCS— Tom Ellison, Elsa Barron, and Brigitte Hugh— then provided insight into political and social issues in both countries that intersect with climate risks, creating potentially destabilizing effects. In Türkiye, for example, diminishing water resources have the potential to create cross-boundary conflicts if it’s perceived by downstream countries to be “hoarding” water for its own citizens.
The briefing was highly attended by congressional staff across the political spectrum from 27 different House and Senate offices.
“The congressional crowd can be different and you never know exactly what you’re going to get,” says Woodwell External Affairs Manager Andrew Condia. “But you could just tell by the questions, and sort of the attention to the presentation that this was a very relevant and interesting topic across the board. It was a much more bipartisan turnout than I was expecting.”
That turnout speaks to the broad interest in how climate change represents a growing threat to national security interests. By speaking on climate through a security lens, Woodwell scientists are able to broaden interest and attention on climate issues throughout various branches of the federal government.
“Through this collaboration with CCS, we’re able to use our science and forward-looking approach to highlight specific climate risks to the security community. It’s something that’s not widely practiced and it’s a unique position to be in,” says Naegele.
Woodwell and CCS are looking forward to expanding the scope of future climate security case studies to draw links between the impacts of climate change and disruption to other countries or even other social systems.
“It would be interesting to apply this same thinking to an analysis of a certain theme instead of country. Perhaps examining impacts on supply chains or food systems,” says Ellison. “There’s a ton of issues we’ve barely scratched the surface on.”