An important annual report by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment, continues to identify significant risk to human security from increasing climate change, particulate pollution, and water scarcity in 2018.  In addition, the connection between biodiversity loss and a reduction in ecosystem services is more clearly articulated in this report than previously.  The following points are sourced directly from the report:

  • The past 115 years have been the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, and the past few years have been the warmest years on record. Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. Research has not identified indicators of tipping points in climate-linked earth systems, suggesting a possibility of abrupt climate change.
  • Worsening air pollution from forest burning, agricultural waste incineration, urbanization, and rapid industrialization—with increasing public awareness—might drive protests against authorities, such as those recently in China, India, and Iran.
  • Accelerating biodiversity and species loss—driven by pollution, warming, unsustainable fishing, and acidifying oceans—will jeopardize vital ecosystems that support critical human systems. Recent estimates suggest that the current extinction rate is 100 to 1,000 times the natural extinction rate.
  • Water scarcity, compounded by gaps in cooperative management agreements for nearly half of the world’s international river basins, and new unilateral dam development are likely to heighten tension between countries.

Ellen Scholl and David Livingston, deputy directors at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, provide an analysis of the 2018 report here.