WASHINGTON - Despite its conviction that climate change represents a serious threat to national and global security, the administration of President Barack Obama has proposed spending one dollar on addressing the challenge for every nine dollars it intends to spend on the U.S. military, according to a new report by the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).
While that ratio represents a huge improvement over the 1:88 dollar ratio allocated by the George W. Bush administration, it may be difficult to sustain, according to the report, because most of the increase in climate-related spending is included in the new administration's stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Indeed, 68 billion dollars out of the proposed total of nearly 79 billion dollars that the report estimates Obama's planned climate-related spending comes from the Recovery Act, a one-time appropriation to help the U.S. economy recover from the global financial crisis that broke out last September, according to "Military vs. Climate Security: Mapping the Shift from the Bush Years to the Obama Era."
The "base" budget for addressing climate change, it said, amounts only to 10.6 billion dollars, a tiny fraction of the Pentagon's proposed base budget of 534 billion dollars for 2010. Moreover, the Pentagon figure does not include the costs of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are expected to exceed 150 billion dollars.
"Obama has called climate change 'the defining challenge of our time,' and he has begun to invest the resources to match the rhetoric," said Miriam Pemberton, the report's author.
"But sustained investment in this security challenge will be hard, given the budgetary hole we are in," she added. "Paring back spending on weapons systems we don't need will be one important way to get the money, and it will bring our security spending portfolio more in line with the relative magnitude of the threats we face."
The 65-page report, the latest in a series on national security budgets produced by IPS's "Foreign Policy in Focus" project and Pemberton over the last several years, argues that the Obama administration should move aggressively to incorporate the kind of climate-related spending included in the Reinvestment Act into future base budgets in order to ensure that the security challenges posed by climate change can be adequately addressed.
Those challenges have gained increased attention here. Two years ago, a group of retired generals and admirals issued a report, "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change", which found, among other things, that the consequences of warming were likely to promote inter-state conflicts over vital resources, such as fresh water; political turmoil and extremism within nations; food shortages and mass migrations.
"Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world," according to the report.
The following fall, two key think tanks, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Centre for a New American Security (CNAS), released a 119-page study, entitled "The Age of Consequences", on the subject.
It predicted that rising temperatures and sea levels caused by climate change are likely to set off mass migrations involving "perhaps billions of people" over the next century if some of the more severe predictions by scientists about changes in Earth's climate were to materialise.
"Global warming has the potential to destabilise the world," then-CNAS president Kurt Campbell, the Obama administration's top Asia policymaker, warned at the time. "In my view, this will quickly become the defining issue of our age."
A special report by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) six months later echoed those dire assessments, noting that climate change could "seriously affect U.S. national security interests" and "threaten domestic stability in some states, potentially contribute to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources."
Just last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its first hearings on climate change and global security during which the Committee's ranking Republican member, Sen. Richard Lugar, warned of the dire consequences of ailing to address the threat.
"Climate change projections indicate greater risks of drought, famine, disease, and mass migration, all of which could lead to conflict, he said. "To adequately prepare our military forces for future threats, we need to understand how climate change might be a source of war and instability."
The IPS report lauds Obama for comprehending the need to address climate security and for closing the budget gap between military and climate security from 88:1 to 9:1, primarily by the extra funding provided by the Recovery Act. Had the funds from the Recovery Act not been available, however, the gap between the total military spending and the climate budget would have narrowed only to 65:1.
"[U]nless this one-time funding becomes a permanent feature of the base budget (for climate spending)," it warns, the gap between military and climate-related spending will widen again.
There currently is no base budget for climate-related spending, in large part because it is spread out over a number of cabinet departments, from the State Department to the Department of Transportation. The report concluded that total spending for climate-related issues in Obama's 2010 budget request would reach 10.6 billion dollars.
It is only when the Recovery Act funding is included that the gaps between military and climate security spending narrow significantly. In research and development, for example, the government invested 20 times more in military technology than in clean energy technology. While Obama's 2010 budget would narrow the gap modestly, the addition of 17.3 billion dollars in clean energy R&D in the Recovery Act would reduce the gap to 4:1.
Similarly, in 2008, Washington spent 50 times as much arming the rest of the world as helping poor countries make the transition to clean energy through its foreign aid programme.
In his 2010 foreign aid budget, Obama proposed more than tripling the latter spending from 212 million dollars to 717 million dollars. While the military-climate gap thus narrowed significantly, the administration added nearly two billion dollars in military aid programmes in the Recovery Act, thus undermining the progress it made in redressing imbalance.
The report argues that investing in climate security has the added benefit of creating more jobs than in the military sector. While military forces are wholly sustained by public money, climate change prevention measures are used more to stimulate private sector spending.
Moreover, greater investment in green technologies at the expense of military spending would not necessarily result in major job losses in the defence sector, as the kinds of high-technology skills use in military programmes are easily transferable to the green sector, according to the report.
Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.