From extended drought and frequent flooding to foreign political tensions exacerbated by lack of food and water, the United States has started to treat climate change as a national security issue, after President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum on Wednesday.

The memorandum, published in conjunction with a report by the National Intelligence Council, is the first action by the federal government that addresses climate change as an issue affecting the safety and security of the nation.

It will establish a working group of 20 agencies to create a Climate Change and National Security Action Plan to identify how the federal government needs to address climate change. The memo also directs individual agencies to develop plans to address climate-related hazards.

“The United States must take a comprehensive approach to identifying and acting on climate change-related impacts on national security interests, including by maintaining its international leadership on climate issues,” Obama wrote in the memorandum.

The National Intelligence Council report provided a sobering look at climate change and how it could affect more than just rising sea levels:

  • Extreme weather events could threaten the stability of other countries through climate-induced disasters, infrastructure problems and a lack of adequate government response.
  • Potential heightened social and political tensions created over a lack of availability to water and migrations of refugees from climate-related events.
  • Extreme drought, changing acidity of the ocean and extreme heat could mean disruptions to crops, fishing and livestock, making food more expensive and less available.
  • Increased health problems from extreme heat, air pollution and increased insects, including mosquitoes.
  • A stress on the United States military’s resources because of increased need for humanitarian need as well as changing weather patterns that could disrupt current bases.
  • Extreme weather could decrease investment in vulnerable areas. This could mean people lose their livelihoods and would likely need to be supported by governments, which may not be adequately equipped to do so.

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