Climate change 'significant and direct' threat to U.S. military: reports

September 14, 2016 12:13 AM EDT

U.S. Marines run down the beach to set up a mortar defense during a simulated beach assault at Marine Corps Base Hawaii with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit during the multi-national military exercise RIMPAC in Kaneohe, Hawaii, July 30, 2016. REUTERS/H

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By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The effects of climate change endanger U.S. military operations and could increase the danger of international conflict, according to three new documents endorsed by retired top U.S. military officers and former national security officials.

"There are few easy answers, but one thing is clear: the current trajectory of climatic change presents a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security, and inaction is not a viable option," said a statement published on Wednesday by the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based think tank.

It was signed by more than a dozen former senior military and national security officials, including retired General Anthony Zinni, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and retired Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the Pacific Command until last year.

They called on the next U.S. president to create a cabinet level position to deal with climate change and its impact on national security.

A separate report by a panel of retired military officials, also published on Wednesday by the Center for Climate and Security, said more frequent extreme weather is a threat to U.S. coastal military installations.

"The complex relationship between sea level rise, storm surge and global readiness and responsiveness must be explored down to the operational level, across the Services and Joint forces, and up to a strategic level as well," the report said.

Earlier this year, another report said faster sea level rises in the second half of this century could make tidal flooding a daily occurrence for some installations.

Francesco Femia, co-founder and president of the Center for Climate and Security, said the reports show bipartisan national security and military officials think the existing U.S. response to climate change "is not commensurate to the threat".

The fact that a large and bipartisan number of former officials signed the reports could increase pressure on future U.S. administrations to place greater emphasis and dedicate more resources to combat climate change.

Addressing climate change has not been a top priority in a 2016 campaign dominated by the U.S. economy, trade and foreign policy.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said that global warming is a concept "created by the and for the Chinese" to hurt U.S. business.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has advocated shifting the country to 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and promised heavy regulation of fracking.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali. Additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Yara Bayoumy and David Gregorio)

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