The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is looking at unclassified data sources to broaden its understanding of climate change – an issue that one NGA official said this week will become a primary agency focus going forward.

Dave Birchett, national GEOINT officer for economics and threat finance at NGA, explained the agency’s evolving approach to studying climate change at a GEOConnect Series Main Stage event hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). At the event, government experts discussed the critical role of the Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) community in future efforts against climate change.

GEOINT can help better monitor and understand climate change and provide well-integrated, accurate, and timely data, technologies, human insight, and methodologies to better predict crises and build problem-specific solutions, officials said.

Threat Multiplier

National security practitioners have described climate change as a “threat multiplier” and a catalyst for instability and conflict; climate change can lead to crisis, requiring urgent and well-informed collaborative action. This essentially means that climate change can exacerbate other drivers of insecurity, including factors such as water, food, and energy insecurity. Many in the national security community have begun to internalize that if you’re concerned about global security, you must be concerned about the implications of a warming world.

“There are the direct impacts of global warming. The increasing frequency of severe storms, the implications for physical safety and critical infrastructure, the rising seas pose a literal existential threat to some countries. Even heat is increasingly deadly on an alarming trajectory,” explained Stephanie Epner, senior advisor on international climate policy at the U.S. Department of State.

“But we should be equally concerned from a security perspective,” she said. “This is a humanitarian crisis in the making and potentially concerning from a regional security perspective as well. None of these impacts is in the service of stability or security.”

Data Integration

While GEOINT can understand and dissect the numerous facets of climate change, both climate change and climate security are intersectional and non-linear subjects, so all subsets of GEOINT must be integrated with other intelligence disciplines to understand climate security truly.

“The need for integration becomes a bit more important and complex as the data becomes more accurate, models become more complex, and the data becomes more abundant,” said Jordan Beauregard, senior environmental security advisor at the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

On the data gathering and analysis front, Birchett said NGA has begun to use “NASA ozone monitoring data which can be applied a bunch of different ways. For example, you can determine levels of general human activity, which can be used to look at where countries stand in terms of climate activity.” He added, “This is an ongoing effort, and I think we are still learning and understanding how to best leverage the collective strengths of each partner.”

Additionally, Beauregard said that GEOINT and complex data analysis capabilities could help the intelligence community face these issues within various government and non-governmental organizations. However, a key obstacle is that many of these assets are focused on domestic U.S. problem sets. But, according to Beauregard, if some of these could be dedicated to understanding international problem sets, it becomes immediately and incredibly helpful to the intelligence community to understand the facets of climate change.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.