Since its birth during the Cold War, Canada’s spy agency has occupied itself with three primary threats: terrorism, espionage and foreign interference in domestic politics and business.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service points out a disruptive new player in the field: climate changes.
CSIS claims it is trying to understand how climate change will impact national security. It has even acknowledged that effort publicly — something intelligence agencies rarely do.
“This will have profound effects on Canadians, and it will have an impact on our national security. “I think it’s important we are going to have that space,” Tricia Geoddes, deputy director of policy at CSIS, stated. Last month, an intelligence conference.
“I think this is another one those big shifts that’s obviously being happening for a while, that we’re watching for, and that I believe there will be a significant contribution by the service.”
Vincent Rigby, who was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security advisor, stated that climate change is an ongoing threat. A single mudslide doesn’t make a national security crisis — but floods and slides increasing in severity over time due to the warming climate could threaten the security of the entire country.
“[Extreme weather events are]It is becoming more widespread and has a severe impact. He stated that it does have national security implications.
It is a threat to our economy. It’s a threat on our social fabric to some extent and it’s also a threat on how we deploy resources.
Climate change is also likely to drive geopolitical instability and mass migration.
This fall, the U.S. government warned that tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced by 2050 because of climate change — roughly 143 million people in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America alone.
Extreme weather is clearly exposing the vulnerabilities in our society, and we are not prepared.– Prof. Simon Dalby
Rigby, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that “as time goes by, you’ll notice greater disagreements and greater conflicts potentially over water resources for example.”
“We are already seeing this in countries like Ethiopia, Egypt, and others that are having disputes. As we move into the future, this could get worse.
There are dangers in the Arctic as well, he said, with geopolitical rivals seeking to control the region’s resources as the ice retreats. Russia’s reactivation northern Cold War-era Cold War bases, coupled with China’s clear interest in the region, could be creating the conditions for great power confrontation.
In March 2020, the Russians deployed three ultra-quiet nuclear subs to simultaneously break through the Arctic ice at the same location — a demonstration that set the defence community on edge.
“You will face greater competition for minerals, oil and gas, and fishing. China and other countries are becoming more interested in the region. Rigby said that Russia also sees opportunities.
“As competition heats up, countries may want to protect their perceived rights as well as their interests.”
Geddes said the spy agency must invest in understanding all of those elements by, among other things, hiring its own climate experts.
She stated that “these are essential pieces of the puzzle to be able understanding where those threats are coming from.”
“That’s something that the service should continue to invest in… anticipating and understanding the next threat.”
The Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s electronic spy agency, said it too has a role to play with “constantly evolving intelligence requirements.”
Evan Koronewski, spokesperson, stated that “We continue to supply the government of Canada the most complete information related to Canada’s intelligence priority, directly furthering Canadian safety and security, prosperity.”
“As climate changes continue to have a global effect, our intelligences and strategic insights will continue being valued by government partners as well as senior decision-makers.”
Simon Dalby is a professor of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University who researches the intersection of climate change, environmental security and geopolitics. He stated that Canada’s national security strategy needs to be updated to account climate change.
“The vulnerabilities that exist in our society are clearly being exposed to more extreme weather, but we’re not ready for it,” he stated.
“We are in a situation where it is necessary to rethink quite drastically, looking at both climate change vulnerabilities and also long-term thinking about how we build an economy that doesn’t leave us vulnerable.
Canada ‘scrambling,’ says prof
Earlier this month, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) think tank released a report calling on Ottawa to re-think its approach to national security in order to address emerging threats.
It recommends the federal government create a new cabinet committee for national security, headed by the prime minster. It would have input from the departments of public safety, defense and global affairs.
“It’s the kind of long-term planning that we clearly need to be doing rather than just scrambling every time there’s an emergency because we simply keep getting caught not prepared,” said Dalby, who is cited in the CIGI report.
To the south, the U.S. director of national intelligence issued an assessment on climate change in October that concluded it “will increasingly exacerbate risks to U.S. national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge.”
That warning was part of a series of documents issued by the U.S. National Security Council and the departments of homeland security and defence. It was the first time American federal security agencies came together to warn policymakers about the security implications of climate change.
Rigby stated that Canada’s intelligence community must “step up” [its] game” on assessing the danger presented by climate change, both in the short and long term.
He said, “When we think about our intelligence agencies we often think about spooks working under the covers and people in trenchcoats walking around the corner looking for clues and suchlike.” “The truth is that modern intelligence is analysis and assessment. It uses open sources and looks at broad trends over long distances.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough in Canada right now.”