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Research Question

  1. Which countries in the CENTCOM AOR could be most exposed to climate hazards, and which countries could see the biggest changes from these hazards?

Climate change is increasingly becoming a major disruptor of human and natural systems. In some areas, summer temperatures are quickly rising, droughts are deepening, and heat waves are lengthening and getting hotter. Such changes will place pressure on scarce water resources, threaten food security, disrupt fisheries, and result in direct health consequences, among other impacts. These effects can produce secondary and tertiary impacts on human systems that may destabilize societies, economies, or governments. However, these dynamics are highly complex and deeply uncertain, and the pathways from climate changes to societal disruptions that lead to conflict remain poorly understood and an area for continuing research. Still, decisionmakers must plan and act in the near term to reduce future climate-induced risks to physical and human systems.

As a first step to characterizing these pathways, this report examines climate change and its impacts on the physical environment to inform operational and longer-term decisionmaking by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), with an emphasis on impacts that are relevant to food and water security in 2035, 2050, and 2070. This is the first report in a series that presents investigations into the potential impacts of climate change on the security environment in the CENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR). This report highlights locations that are projected to experience the biggest changes, as well as those that are most exposed to climate hazards.

Key Findings

  • Nearly all countries in the CENTCOM AOR face the compounding effects of high temperatures and drought and long-term dryness. These effects are accelerating across the CENTCOM AOR, which spans from Egypt through the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula and from Iran to Central Asia and Pakistan.
  • As the AOR becomes hotter and drier, existing water resources will become scarcer. This could be particularly acute across the region compared with other parts of the world, given existing water scarcity issues and the high degree of tension that already exists around shared water resources.
  • More frequent and more severe extreme heat events, coupled with drier conditions, will make agricultural production more difficult throughout much of the AOR. This will likely be the case even in regions where warmer temperatures are lengthening the growing season, such as Central Asia.
  • Many countries in the AOR, such as Yemen, Oman, and Pakistan, are experiencing aridification in concert with increases in extreme precipitation, heightening the risk of flash flooding.
  • There are a few key hot spots that will see additional compounding hazards. Southern Iraq—including the Basra, Maysan, and Dhi Qar governates—is vulnerable to sea level rise, surface water losses, and extreme heat. Additionally, Alexandria and Port Said in Egypt face risks from sea level rise and declines in surface water availability from the Nile.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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