CSIS brief says climate change poses a 'national security threat'

Canada's spy service claims climate change threatens national security and prosperity, including arctic security, environmental degradation, and violent extremism.

CSIS brief says climate change poses a 'national security threat'
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The Canadian Press obtained access to an April 2021 brief through an Access to Information request in which the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) states climate change "presents a complex, long-term threat to Canada's safety, security and prosperity outcomes."

"There will be no single moment where this threat will crystallize and reveal itself, for it is already underway and will incrementally build across decades to come," it reads.

Will Greaves, a political scientist at the University of Victoria, articulates the CSIS brief has a "sophisticated framing" of climate change as a security issue "than we see in most other federal government policies and documents."

"It's refreshing to see it is coming from such a pointy security organ of the Canadian state," he said.

The brief notes the Arctic's receding ice coverage permits routine navigation of the Northwest Passage and extraction of resource deposits in the region that might become more economically viable.

"Great power competition for Arctic access, influence and control will likely intensify," added Greaves. "There will be an escalating risk from significant Russian military activity and a growing China presence in this vital region."

CSIS warns of "irretrievable loss" of infrastructure and entire coastline communities as sea levels rise. They claimed their modelling demonstrates the potential loss of substantial parts of British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces.

The brief suggests buying insurance or rebuilding after a natural disaster may be too costly, and taking steps to lessen the severity of flood and weather risks may be impractical. 

A senior CSIS official said the agency must anticipate "the next threat" to support other government players.

According to the brief, CSIS anticipates more frequent pandemics with the loss of biodiversity and habitats, more arable land lost to pollution, human use and desertification, and depleting freshwater resources from environmental degradation.

The spy agency also claims newly uninhabitable territory, extreme weather events, drought and food shortages, and human conflict zones might cause unprecedented human migration.

"Canada will likely be seen as a desirable place for future immigration flows, not only due to its stable economy and fundamental rights and freedoms but also its significant freshwater and agricultural endowments and vast territory that offer options for mass relocation," according to the brief.

"As climate change becomes an increasingly important geopolitical and policy issue, the range of polarizing narratives regarding both government solutions and the pace of their implementation is dramatically increasing."

Greaves said that could fuel ideologically motivated extremism "across the traditional left-right ideological spectrum."

Greaves also claimed CSIS might be underplaying "the depths of that social cleavage in Canada," adding he expects that gap to grow, with groups on both sides of the spectrum "embracing either disruptive or potentially violent tactics."

The CSIS brief declared climate change would undermine critical global infrastructure, threaten health and safety, create new scarcity and spark international competition.

"Put simply, climate change compounds all other known human security issues and accelerates negative security outcomes. No country will be immune from climate change or associated risks."

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