OSINT and climate security
Speaker 1: Welcome to The World of Intelligence, a podcast for you to discover the latest analysis of global military and security trends within the open source defense intelligence community. Now on to the episode with your host, Terry Pattar.
Terry Pattar: Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Janes Podcast. I'm Terry Pattar, I lead the Janes Intelligence Unit. I'm joined on this episode by Erin Sikorsky, who is the Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Security, and the Director of the International Military Council on Climate and Security. Previously, Erin served as the Deputy Director of the Strategic Futures Group on the National Intelligence Council in the United States, where she also co- authored the quadrennial Global Trends Report, and led the US intelligence community's environmental and climate security analysis. Erin, thanks for joining me on this episode.
Erin Sikorsky: Terry, thanks so much for having me.
Terry Pattar: I came across two pieces you'd written, I guess, earlier this year on War on the Rocks, and that was really what prompted me to invite you on to the podcast to talk to us. Because I don't know to what extent people really, in their day jobs, at the moment, are focused on climate security issues, but it's really struck me that in every national security strategy and document that we're reading at the moment, whether it's from the US or the UK or elsewhere, it's really clear that climate security is, if not the top priority, at least one of the top two or three priorities that every country is trying to work within the context of national security, which I think is what's striking. It'll be great to come on to talk to you about those two pieces in particular, but I thought perhaps just to give us an idea of how you've come on this journey in terms of becoming an expert, leading expert in climate security.
Erin Sikorsky: Sure. Thanks, Terry. So I worked in the US intelligence community for over a decade, and I come at these issues from a security background. I led teams that were focused on extremism in the Middle East and East Africa and conflict. But time and again, as I lead these teams and we did our analysis, what we found was climate and environmental issues shaping the landscape, shaping the conflict landscape, shaping the governance landscape, and they were issues we couldn't ignore. They were key to what we were trying to understand and warn policymakers about. As I did that work and lead those teams, I realized it was something I wanted to be more involved in, and that I thought the US intelligence community needed to be more involved in understanding of. So I came to the National Intelligence Council in the US and worked there in a group that was mostly focused on strategic risk and future forecasting. The Global Trends Report is an unclassified report that comes out every four years, that looks at 20 years down the road, what are the key things shaping the national security landscape? In the most recent report, we've put out, climate change and environment was one of those key issues. So for me, just really digging into all the ways in which climate and environment shape the landscape, and really trying to go beyond just to look at, what does it mean for military installations or military forces, but how is it intersecting with other risks? Those are the kinds of questions I get excited about, and why I like to work on this. Again, coming out of that security and intel background, not a climate science background.
Terry Pattar: Did you have to learn a lot then, in terms of the more technical aspects of the environmental, climate science, et cetera, that would help you understand what the risks were, and also, not just what the risks were, but also how to track them?
Erin Sikorsky: Right. So I definitely had to focus on my scientific literacy, which I think is really important. But the good thing is, in the United States, we've got a great body of scientific experts within the government and without that we, folks who work in security, can turn to. So I think what was really important for me was figuring out where to go for sources of the information. Not having to understand how to do the climate science myself, but where to find the risk information and how to interpret it. So yeah, so it was a bit of a learning curve, but it was also... I think actually being able to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the security community is a really important skill to have, and something that I found I was able to do as I dug more into this work.
Terry Pattar: That's really interesting, and I think... Especially what you touched on there, which was knowing where the sources are, what are the reliable sources, I guess. Because climate science is still very politicized, and I think there's clearly some people who want to debate to what extent people are the root cause of the recent climate change we've seen. But that doesn't really take away from, I guess, the effects, which is probably more what you're interested in terms of understanding national security issues. How much of a challenge is that, though, in terms of finding sources that are objective and unpoliticized?
Erin Sikorsky: Sure. Well, I think in terms of finding sources, that's pretty straightforward, because the scientific record is there, and there's strong modeling, there's IPCC reports, there's US government reporting from the Global Change Research Program. All of that is there and reputable. I do think the politicization is a concern, but what we found, at least in the US, is that the climate security front is actually a place where we've seen bipartisan support and bipartisan action. Even under the Trump administration, Congress passed legislation requiring the Defense Department, requiring the intelligence community to do more on climate security issues. So I do think the security frame for understanding the risks from climate change can help bridge that, sometimes, partisan or politicized divide.
Terry Pattar: Looking at the information that you're seeing, how much are you trying to track the short term versus the long term? What is the time range that you're talking about in terms of actually looking at climate security as an issue? Because I imagine there's only so much you can do in terms of tracking short term risks?
Erin Sikorsky: Mm- hmm( affirmative).
Terry Pattar: Would that be fair?
Erin Sikorsky: Yes, and no. Unfortunately, as we've seen this summer, the risks from climate change are no longer just a future issue. We're seeing them in our own backyards, whether it's here in the US with the fires, or in Germany with the floods, or in India. You can spend the globe, put your finger down, and you can talk about a climate security risk in those locations. I think what's important for the intelligence community is understanding... So you've got the physical science, you know the sea level rise is going to be X, or you know weather patterns are going to change, things are going to be more variable, you're going to have large amounts of rain at one time or dry periods at a time. So taking all of that, and then marrying that information with what you know about the politics in a country, or what you know about the society in a country, or the extremist groups in a country, and how they're going to react, how they're going to intersect with these issues. And then what that means for security risks. That, I think you can do in the short term, but then also in the longer term, as well, because the climate models we have do a pretty good job. The predictive capabilities are quite amazing. So being able to integrate that into longer term analysis. I think the challenge can sometimes be that in the intelligence world, you're asked to... People don't care about 20 years from now, they care about tomorrow, or the next six months to a year. But even that now, I think, like I said, as we've seen this summer, the effects are happening. So you can absolutely talk about it.
Terry Pattar: That's exactly mirroring, I think, probably some of the experiences I've had, where probably a couple of years ago, it was actually difficult convincing clients sometimes to be interested in or sufficiently interested in the risk associated with climate change, and what it would mean for their national security. Because that took that long term view, sometimes the resources aren't there for people to look at it. Not just resources in terms of money, I mean in terms of attention, because everything is so focused on the short term risks and threats and things that people have to deal with. I think climates just been one of those things that too many people have either been putting off, or maybe they find it difficult, that even... So for those customers you have, perhaps within the intelligence community, the national security community, even when you're able to outline for them fairly accurately what the potential risks are further down the line, do you find that it's still difficult for them to then think about what they should do about that?
Erin Sikorsky: I think it can be. The what to do about it, I think, is challenging, particularly because climate change is a systemic risk. It's not a single threat, it's not a missile, or a weapon, right?
Terry Pattar: Right.
Erin Sikorsky: It's something that shapes the landscape, and that's more complex. So it requires a different way of thinking about risk, and it requires a better understanding of tools like scenario planning and scenario exercises that help you think about these risks in a different way. But maybe I can give one concrete example of where I think bringing a climate lens would be really useful, and that's what's happening in Iran right now with the protests there in the streets over power outages and water shortages. There are a bunch of reasons those protests are happening. It's not just climate change. It's poor environmental stewardship by the government, environmental degradation, corruption, governance issues. But, when you layer climate change on top of that, when you layer drier, hotter temperatures that are increasing risks of drought and power outages, it makes the problem worse. If you don't understand how climate change is shaping things in Iran, then you won't get the full picture when you do your analysis or make your policy recommendations. When I worked in the intelligence community, regional analysts would pride themselves on knowing absolutely everything about a country's history and culture and music, and just all those little intangible things that that help you understand what's happening somewhere. I would argue those analysts need to know now about the climate effects in the countries they work on in the same way, and consider it the similar kind of information they need to bring to the table when they're examining these challenges. Because if you don't, you'll miss things.
Terry Pattar: That's such a great example, as well, to give. What's going on right now, this summer in Iran, where I think the people have shown over the years... People anywhere, I think, do show an immense resilience towards all those other factors you mentioned, things like corruption, poor governance not having political freedom, perhaps. But when it comes to climate and basic things like not having water, there's a limit which people will hit pretty quickly, and that's, in many ways, a much bigger factor towards driving instability, political instability, in a country like that, I would imagine, than some of those other factors that... You mentioned that people might have been tracking, or analysts or people that are experts on the region might be tracking day- by- day. So, yeah, it's such an immensely important thing you've touched on there, and it's something that I think you're right, too many people probably have not understood well enough in the past. What I also find, again, really fascinating is... and this touches on the title of your article this month in War on the Rocks, where you sort of... the headline is, at least, Secrets Alone Won't Save Us. None of this information is secret. It's all openly available, it's out there, people can look at this, they can understand the information, if they want to. What would be your advice, I guess, to analysts who are trying to understand this kind of factor, or these driving forces? Where should they be looking? What kind of things should they be looking at? Is it the case that they can't get everything they need from open source information?
Erin Sikorsky: So, I don't think they can get everything they need from open source information. I think the key, and I talk about this in the article, is marrying that open source information with the secret information to understand how governments are going to react, or how an extremist group might try to take advantage, all sorts of things. But you do need that good base of understanding about physical climate risks in the regions you're covering. You can get that at different places. You can get it from primary source literature and scientific journals. There was just a great article I read this past week on the nexus of migration and climate change in India, for example. That if I were an analyst covering India, I would absolutely need to read that to understand the risks there. But you can also... I think the other thing the intelligence community needs is access to models and to set data systems that integrate artificial intelligence capabilities to run more iterations of climate models that will give you more detailed information on risks in certain countries. There needs to be a demand signal from the IC in the national security community for better models that are more localized and provide more local details on data, which... I also talked about in the article, there are certain parts of the world where data is fairly lacking, like in Sub Saharan Africa, and there could be a push from the intelligence community. It's kind of one of those gray zones, where it's perhaps not fully open source, and that it doesn't exist, and you just need to search for it on the internet. But it's not a clandestine collection, either. But there's something that the intelligence community could build, or work with other parts of the national security community to build that would be data to input into all sorts of analysis that they're doing, and provide indicators and warnings, for example, of risks coming down the pike. There's a lot of opportunity there, I think, to think a little differently about how to tackle these issues, and who needs access to them in the intelligence community.
Terry Pattar: Because, like you say, certain things you can't pick up, obviously, like how people are going to react, or organizations will react, but I guess understanding what is happening, at least, in terms of the physical risks, that understanding can be built pretty accurately. But it just requires, like you said, a bit more traditional work in terms of data modeling, et cetera. Are you finding that, actually, the gaps... You mentioned Sub Saharan Africa, but where there are gaps, or there's not enough coverage, that in some ways, those are almost the regions where the risks are worse?
Erin Sikorsky: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, Africa is one of the areas that will face some of the greatest risk from climate change, and yet that data is lacking there, more localized data. Another area, though, that I think is of high interest is the Indo- Pacific, and there is decent data in some places there. I think one of the keys for the intelligence community that I mentioned earlier is to find ways to partner with the scientists within the government, whether it's in the United States or elsewhere, who are doing some of this work, and find the opportunities to share best practices to inform what the scientists are doing to get the right information. Because I do think... When I think about this, I think about creating a climate- competent workforce within the national security community. So you need people who know where to go and where to get the information, and then work with the scientists to build better models or get access to modeling information in such a way that can be applied to the national security context.
Terry Pattar: Interesting. Yeah. I think modeling, I guess, has been getting better and better and more refined when looking at this type of issue. Do you see more improvements to come? You mentioned the potential use of AI to do more of that modeling, as well.
Erin Sikorsky: Yeah. There are a couple examples I cite in my most recent article. I think one example is the use of what are called large ensemble assessments, which are repeated runs of the same climate model, but you change the starting point each time, and that allows scientists to more clearly show a range of potential regional climate trends, which is important for analysts, if they're trying to incorporate this into their work. There's also high resolution climate models that rely on advances in supercomputing power, so they can better represent more small scale processes. Again, that's more... allows for more precision. I think one tool, and this isn't a model, per se, but it's a report, the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change, is going to come out with its next assessment in the coming year. The first part of that assessment will come out next month in August, and that will provide a new analysis of the physical risks of climate change going forward. So every analyst, I would argue, every regional analyst within the intelligence community needs to read that, understand it, understand what it means for their region, and that's another way they can incorporate this in into their day- to- day work. So it's a range of tools. You don't need everyone to use the fancy modeling all the time, but they need to know where to go to get the reports that are derived from that modeling, if that makes sense.
Terry Pattar: Yeah, that does. Definitely. I'd love to ask you about the kind of... Well, you touched on, earlier, the difference maybe between trying to do this in a way that is more like forecasting, versus scenario analysis. So I read the Global Trends Report that was put out this year, and that's... it's terrifying in some ways, but it's also... it's really interesting to read, because it's a great, I think, example of scenario analysis. It'd be great to get a little more insight from you in terms of how you approach this issue in terms of whether you're looking to do the short term or localized forecasting in any way. I guess, as you mentioned, that some of the data modeling, as it becomes more and more granular and more accurate, can help towards that, versus actually focusing more on scenario analysis, where maybe there's a bit more creative thinking involved.
Erin Sikorsky: Sure. In terms of the Global Trends project, what we tried to do with this most recent report that was released in March was to separate out the issues where we think there's fairly certain data, where over the next 20 years, you can be fairly confident in the trajectory of the issue, and climate change was one of four fundamentals we identified as driving the future landscape, and we're fairly confident about where it's going over the next 20 years. So that's what I would consider the forecast piece that you're fairly confident in. But then where the uncertainty comes in is where you take that forecast of the physical effects of climate change; sea level rise is going to be x, melting ice in the Arctic is going to be y, and you intersect that with human decision making. Whether it states or the international community or society, and they're going to react to those physical changes in different ways, and that's where the scenario analysis comes in, and my opinion. You take a snapshot of the physical risk, say in a geographic location, and then you do some scenarios work over, how are these different communities and actors going to respond? What are the key drivers of their response? How might that play out in those regions? That, I think, is the interesting part. What I love about scenarios analysis is that when it's done well, it allows the person reading the scenario or participating in the scenario process to put themselves in that future and think about how decisions they make today will then shape that future world. That's, I think, where you want to get with policymakers on these climate security issues. There are things they can do right now that will push us in one direction or the other on these things. We can choose to adapt, we can choose to cut emissions, we can choose to work with allies and partners to help them adapt and cut emissions, or we cannot, and you can see the effects of those different decisions in a scenarios process. So I would argue that more and more of the work of intelligence is about that type of scenarios. There's always going to be... You're always going to need the tactical short term information about what country x is going to do in response to y in the next six months. But for the types of risks we face today, these actorless risks, whether it's climate change, whether it is a pandemic, a scenarios processes, a systemic analysis understanding of risk, I think, is really, really important.
Terry Pattar: It's interesting how you describe that, I guess, in terms of that combination of forecasting and scenario analysis, and just generally trying to layer the certainty of knowing certain... or having, I guess, really high level of confidence in certain aspects, whereas other things that are unknowns, you're obviously trying to map out. With the kinds of challenges that the intelligence community and national security community dealing with in general, are you also seeing a greater take up from customers in the US government, for instance, where they would realize, actually, they need to know more about this, and they want to know more about this? Is that demand driving better analysis, or do you think there's still a lot more to be done to help really understand these issues?
Erin Sikorsky: Sure. Certainly, in the US, I think the demand is high. From the President on down, from the beginning of his administration, he's identified climate as a top foreign policy issue and an existential risk. The executive order he released in January tasked a risk assessment from the Pentagon, it tasked the National Intelligence estimate from the IC on climate security risks. I think the challenge is, you can't just flip a switch and be able to tackle these issues overnight. The national security community and the intelligence community in the US needs to staff up, to have the right people in place. To be able to tackle these issues, they need to change culture a bit, I think, which is a harder thing to do than just hire more people. But you have folks... When I was in the intelligence community, you still had some senior folks who did not think climate change was something the intelligence community should deal with at all. Yeah, maybe we should try to find out what other people at the negotiating table might be bringing to the table for climate talks. But that was the extent of the climate piece, leave it to the scientists, that's not an intel issue. So you have to overcome that, and you have to overcome the desire, and this happens in governments, I think, around the world, to silo these functional issues off. You have a climate change office, you have a climate change team, they're the ones that deal with it, whereas we're the ones over here that deal with China or Russia or the important threats. That's, I think, the wrong way to think about it. Yeah, you need that climate team, but you also need analysts on the China team who understand how climate change is shaping Chinese security risks within their own country, or how it's shaping Chinese behavior abroad, or what's going to happen on the Mekong or the Brahmaputra in the coming years due to climate change, and how will that shape China's relationships with other countries on those rivers? All of those kinds of questions. So that's, I think... I think while the demand is high from policymakers out in the US, shifting the organizational cultures to meet that is more challenging. I think Director of National Intelligence, Haines, is saying all the right things publicly about this and pushing forward on it. So I think that's a good sign. But you got to get that cultural change in there, too, so then the issue survives politics going forward. Regardless of who's in office in the White House, once you build it into the bureaucratic and institutional cultures of the US government, it's harder to dislodge, I would argue, then. It starts being a political issue. It just becomes part of the day- to- day business.
Terry Pattar: Yeah, certainly. You mentioned that more people, different skills, culture change. Is that a case of existing agencies needing to do that themselves, or do you see some new organization being created for that? I know there are probably pros and cons for any different approach, but what's your take on this?
Erin Sikorsky: Yeah. I don't think you need new... fully new organizations. I think you might need some new institutions within existing organizations. For example, I think the US National Intelligence council should have a national intelligence officer for climate and environment, and NIOs, national intelligence officers are the senior most people across the IC, leading on these issues. And then if that person was elevated to an NIO, they would be able to lead a team, they would have the prestige and the wasa, and the seat at the table the same way you have an NIO for cyber and an NIO for WMD. If it really is an existential threat to the United States, then you need someone at that level. But that's creating a new position within existing institutions. I think it's better to try and change the existing institutions. Because places like CIA, you're not going to create a new institution that can compete with them, for example.
Terry Pattar: Yeah. I guess, as you mentioned, you really need their analysts to have the-
Erin Sikorsky: Yeah.
Terry Pattar: ...information at their fingertips, I guess, to help them understand the things they're looking at, the countries they're looking at, for example, to understand how climate change is going to affect the risks that they're already monitoring. With that, is there, in your view, something that they need to do in terms of... At an individual level, I guess, what would be your advice for analysts or teams or units? What are the skills and knowledge they might need to develop that are outside of their maybe current expertise?
Erin Sikorsky: As I said earlier, I think basic scientific literacy is really important, and learning where to go for that information and how to understand it. I would build it into training programs in a way that's useful for folks. I think being better trained and thoughtful about systemic risk, also an understanding, a systems thinking approach to the issues, and being able to think more broadly. I think sometimes, especially on really high priority topics, people, what they cover gets so narrowly sliced. You cover this tiny little bit of the Chinese military, for example. So it's hard to see the big picture sometimes, so different thinking there. And then a better ability, I think, also to engage with the outside world on this, and talk to experts outside of the national security community who are looking at these issues. I think there's a lot to be learned, not only from the scientific community, but from the emergency response and emergency management community in the US and elsewhere in terms of how you're responding to these risks. I think there's all sorts of really important folks to talk to that are outside of the traditional international relations or political science circles that I think most intelligence analysts would tend to run in. So I think that's really important, also. And other parts of the government, too. Talk to FEMA in the US, find ways to talk to new and different folks.
Terry Pattar: That's really interesting. So I guess it's a case, sometimes, of people in organizations, I guess, facilitating the right fora to have those discussions in and to bring in those outside expertise. Like you said, yeah, maybe it needs just that sort of widening of understanding around, actually, it's not just about talking to the same maybe outside experts that people have been talking to previously. But do you think that the coronavirus pandemic that we're all still living through, has that changed people's perceptions of climate security risks?
Erin Sikorsky: Absolutely. I do think there's more recognition now of this kind of artificial divide that's existed for many years between hard and soft security issues. Hard security issues are the guns and the weapons, and the soft security issues or health and climate and human rights, and other things like that. If the pandemic's taught us anything, that soft security issues kill a heck of a lot more people in the United State than the hard security issues have in recent years. So I do think there's a recognition and a shift. You see this in the draft national security... or the interim national security strategy guidance from the Biden administration, where they really talk quite a bit about climate change and about the pandemic. I think there's also a recognition of the cascading nature, compounding nature of risks like a pandemic or climate change. In many places around the world, it wasn't just COVID that was a problem, it was COVID plus political instability, plus ongoing conflict, plus climate shocks. All of those things together are what create the biggest security risks. I was just reading this morning that the International Committee of the Red Cross found, last year, that the 20 countries in the world that are most vulnerable to climate change, 12 of those are also active conflict zones. So when you think about those things coming together... I think the pandemic was similar. So yeah, you have seen a shift in conversation. I still think it's really hard, though, to... I keep coming back to this issue of culture, and the more intangible pieces of how to build resilience and how to change the way you approach issues like this. I'm impressed with what I've seen, especially in the Defense Department and the leadership there thus far, as well as inaudible, but it's a big challenge.
Terry Pattar: Especially when you start to look at how it drives other risks, and you mentioned there the overlap with conflict and areas of conflict. I guess we saw in Syria, there was debate about the extent to which climate change was a driver of the conflict, but I think it's undeniable that it plays a role in conflict and driving conflict, and that's only likely to get worse. It's a difficult issue to analyze and deal without getting depressed, quite frankly, sometimes. Because it is so stark. When you look at the things you mentioned before, where you've got the certainties and the uncertainties, the certainties are just really quite dramatic. We're talking about millions of people being displaced, et cetera, lots of other potential knock- on effects, second order effects, et cetera, all of that, as well, and you see how the world has struggled to deal with the pandemic, and you think, " Okay, how are we going to deal with climate?" Is that something that you are factoring into the... not just, I guess, the analysis, but also the way you communicate the analysis to your customers?
Erin Sikorsky: Yeah. No, those are good questions. I think sometimes it's easy to feel helpless on the topic, because it is so big in some ways, and it can seem so challenging. There's a couple, I think, of bright spots, though, and I think these are important to highlight when you're talking, opportunity analysis to policymakers who think about how to tackle that. One, as we've already talked about, the predictive capabilities with climate change are quite good, so that's a great tool in our tool box that we could use to help us better prepare for these effects. Right? You don't-
Terry Pattar: Sure. Yeah.
Erin Sikorsky: ...have predictive capabilities on what x leader is going to do at five, 10 years from now, but you do on climate change. So let's take advantage of that. The other thing is, I think, when it comes to conflict, and there's a lot of academic work that's been done on this, is that there are opportunities for leveraging climate issues or environmental issues for peace- building, as well. So it can be an opportunity. Often, collaboration between parties that distrust one another over more technical aspects of climate issues can open the door to broader talks on other issues. Interventions to prevent conflict that bring an environmental or climate lens to them can often be more sustainable over the long term, because they promote good governance. So there's ways to look at it, as well, that bringing this lens doesn't only highlight different risks, but it also highlights different opportunities to manage conflict in the future. So I think that's another really important thing to highlight for governments. The last thing I'll say, too, is that obviously the Biden administration here in the US, one of their main issues with special envoy John Jerry and others is to convince other countries to raise their ambition towards cutting emissions.
Terry Pattar: Right.
Erin Sikorsky: I think on the climate security front, highlighting opportunities to partner with allies around the world on some climate security issues can have a co- benefit, then, of making them realize the importance of cutting emissions, as well. So you can advance other policy goals by focusing on climate security.
Terry Pattar: Is it still difficult to get decision makers to prioritize this in and amongst everything else they're doing, or is it a case of, once you start to demonstrate all of the things that it's connected to, that it's starting to become not just temporary top priority, but do you think it's now, this is it, climate is going to be a top notch security priority for as long as we were able to forecast, I guess?
Erin Sikorsky: Yeah. When I'm feeling optimistic, I say yes, that there's been enough of a change that people now take it seriously and recognize the risks and the problems. You see that, again, like I said, with the bipartisan support in Congress, and you see that coming up in so many different conversations. Secretary of Defense Austin was just speaking in Singapore today at a IISS event, and he talked about climate change there. So it's part of the list of things you talk about when you talk about national security. I do think one of the challenges we still face is this tendency of policymakers, and understandably so, to want to rack and stack the issues. Is climate change more of a risk than China? If China is the top issue, then why should we focus on climate change? So you got to have priorities, and climate change can't be up there with China. But I think that's the... As we've already discussed, that's the wrong way of looking at the question. Instead, you need to look at how climate change shapes competition with China, how it shapes Chinese behavior, Russian behavior. It's not separate from those things. So yeah, you're still going to have to make hard decisions sometimes about what one issue you're going to talk about, for example, in a meeting or whatnot, but it's not... Because of the nature of the climate security threat, it's not useful to of use that rack and stack approach. I think you're seeing more and more and understanding of that. There was a hearing in the US Congress just last week on the Indo- Pacific and climate change and climate risks, and with a bunch of folks from the administration testifying, and then both senator Mitt Romney and Ed Markey from Massachusetts leading the hearing and asking questions, and they both seem to understand the integrated nature of the risk. So I think progress is definitely being made, but it needs constant focus.
Terry Pattar: With the sort of scenarios, I guess, that you mapped out with the Global Trends Report, et cetera, that you're working within your day- to- day work, where do you see this most acute points of risk globally, I guess? You mentioned the overlap with areas of conflict. But are there some regions of the world where you think actually, this is really, really going to have a huge impact, not just long term, but maybe even in the nearer term?
Erin Sikorsky: Sure. So, a couple areas I'm particularly worried about, and we've done some work recently at the Center for Climate Insecurity on... there's a few different reports. But one is South Asia, where I think you have a confluence of different issues that will increase challenges. One is just internally within states in India and Bangladesh, Pakistan, where extreme weather events will cause more migration from rural areas to cities, potentially overwhelming government's ability to manage... Those population movements can cause tensions within those countries. But also, geopolitical tensions in the region. I mentioned the Brahmaputra earlier, the shared river between China and India. There's also the Indus, which goes from China, through India, and into Pakistan. You have climate change affecting the water levels and the flooding in those rivers, but you have really tense relationships between those countries, too, and a lack of trust. So I think there's a real risk that, say there's downstream flooding on the Brahmaputra, India blames something China has done with its dams higher up on the river, when in actuality it was climate, and those two... the tensions rise even further between the two countries, and you have a very combustible mix there. So that's something I worry about quite a bit, and it's an area of the world that the United States cares about quite a bit, as well. Central America is another one of high interest to the United States. Last year, you had not one but two extremely intense hurricanes batter countries there in quick succession, again, pushing people from rural areas to urban areas, where you have then corruption, and crime, and insecurity, challenges economically, which then pushes people to leave the country and move north, towards the United States, creating potential political challenges here in the US that are risky, as well. The Arctic is another one, then. I'll end but the Arctic, where you have melting ice allowing for more activity up there, commercial activity. You've got actors like Russia and China who are perhaps interested in gray zone operations, leveraging some of that commercial activity to hide bad behavior, increased risks of accidents, and you've got old tools and old systems, like the Arctic Council, which has done a great job of managing scientific cooperation and other things, but perhaps isn't up to the challenge of a more tense environment there. So, that's just a few places I worry about quite a bit. Also here, frankly, within the United States, which is obviously outside of the remit of the US intelligence community in terms of the work it does. But in terms of security risks, you just watch what's happening in California and the West right now, with the drought and the fires, the strain that's putting on governments, the challenges communities are having as they... and the government is having as they have to make decisions about turning water off or on at dams and on rivers, and then folks getting upset about that. I think it's a concern at home, as well.
Terry Pattar: Yeah, no kidding. Some of the weather events we've seen in the last... just the last six months, let alone 18 months or longer, the extreme nature of those globally, I think, has shocked a lot of people, probably not the climate scientists. But yeah, I think it's shocked a lot of people who aren't climate scientists. The areas of risk you mentioned, those all overlap so much with geopolitical concerns, as you've described, that they've got to be part of what the national security community is looking at. Within that, do you feel like actually there's more that needs to be done to employ some of the techniques that... you're obviously very familiar with, and that you've used to produce things like the Global Trends Report. Such as scenario analysis, is that something that you think the intelligence community could be doing more of? I know sometimes that there's a lack of time and resources for that, but is that something that's key to really planning for how to deal with this situation?
Erin Sikorsky: I think it absolutely is, and I think doing more of that is really important. I think the key is bringing in that that climate lens to the work. I think there's a lot of scenarios analysis that is done generally in the... at least in the US intelligence community, but making sure it's rooted in climate developments, as well, is important. That's why I was really pleased to see in the Biden administration executive order, when they tasked the Pentagon to do a climate risk assessment. It also said, then, you have to leverage this climate risk assessment in your wargaming. So I think that's a perfect example of a place where bringing in that climate perspective is critical. So not just that you're doing climate wargames, like, what happens if you have a food security or water security crisis somewhere? But instead, your average wargame about XYZ, but you bring in climate shocks into that wargame. What does that do to the conflict? What does that do to us ability to operate, for example? Those are really important questions we need to be asking all the time.
Terry Pattar: That's such a good point, maybe, for us to take away and to end on in a way, that climate is now a dimension of everything that's security related, and so it's got to be incorporated in everything, like wargaming and any kind of futures analysis. Yeah, it's been really interesting talking to you, Erin, getting your thoughts, and really trying to understand that journey that you've been on, actually, as an intelligence analyst, and trying to learn much more about climate and how to go about doing that. I hope it will encourage others to start thinking about this in a more detailed way of how they incorporate it within their intelligence work, within their national security. Policy decision making, I'm sure, is now everywhere anyway, but I think for individual organizations within the intelligence communities that we work with at Janes and that you work within in the US, that this is something that needs... it needs the kind of things you talked about. It needs that extra element of understanding and culture change to really make people understand what to do with climate security risks. As you said, in your article, I think that it will give to people decision advantage if they really do get on top of it.
Erin Sikorsky: Absolutely. No, thank you so much for having me. I always enjoy these conversations. Thank you so much.
Terry Pattar: No, thank you, Erin. Thanks.
Speaker 1: Thanks for joining us this week on The World of Intelligence. Make sure to visit our website, janes. com/ podcast, where you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode. Uncover the threat landscape with assured interconnected threat intelligence from Janes, covering military capabilities, terrorism and insurgency, country risk, and CBRN. Support your threat and capability assessments, and enhance your situational awareness with Janes threat intelligence solutions. Find out more at janes. com/ threat.
In this episode of the Janes Podcast we speak to Erin Sikorsky, Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), about using Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) for 'decision advantage' when it comes to the climate crisis and impact for national security.