SouthCom started looking at the security impacts of climate change in 2008, but did not formalize its work on the issue until this year, when the 2010 Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review (pdf) recognized climate change as a national security issue for the first time, according to Lopez.
SouthCom will release a new environmental security strategy in the coming months, but the military is far from integrating its climate change studies into operations.
“We have a lot to do,” Lopez said. “We’re not there yet where we have a complete buy-in from the DoD that this is a core military role.”
But, given its history, SouthCom probably won’t have a choice but to start planning for climate change. One of SouthCom’s primary missions is humanitarian aid and it has a history of being called on for disaster response in Latin America, according to the Air Force’s Briggs.
“It will be the U.S. military that will respond to a climate change disaster.”
The military also faces a new threat to its counternarcotics operations because climate change could lead to increased cocaine production in a country that already supplies half the coca coming from the Andes region, some security experts say. Farmers are moving higher up the Andes in search of cooler temperatures for their crops, encroaching on other communities. Often, the alternative is to move to the jungle, where they can earn an income growing coca, said Robert Quiroz, climate and agriculture expert at the International Potato Center.
The Pentagon is taking steps to address the impacts of climate change. It gave SouthCom $600,000 to develop a mapping tool that will allow security leaders in Latin America and the U.S. to share information about climate change risks. It is also spending $1.4 million to study the climate change effects on foreign military bases.
Peru, too, has taken steps, creating a national strategy on climate change in 2003 (pdf)that outlines extensive efforts for national and local governments and in 2008 setting up a Ministry of Environment with oversight of climate change programs. Peru officials are working with USAID and nonprofit organizations to build reservoirs in Andean communities and monitor water flow from the glaciers.
But it lacks resources. The Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is asking Washington and other allies for at least $350 million every year through 2030 for reservoirs to collect runoff, dams to regulate water flow from the Andes and irrigation techniques, said Hart of Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“If we don’t solve our problems … this will become a problem for the United States,” he said. “When you have a dysfunctional country, you have a problem for the entire region.”
Peruvian officials are cautious about how much they can depend on aid from the U.S., knowing it is one of the more difficult countries to negotiate with on climate change, said Eduardo Durand, director of climate change at the Ministry of Environment. But Durand said it’s in the U.S.’s own interest to step up and help Peru and other key allies as climate change becomes a global security threat.
“The whole world is waiting for the United States,” Durand said.