CNN | June 26, 2008

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Global warming could destabilize “struggling and poor” countries around the world, prompting mass migrations and creating breeding grounds for terrorists, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council told Congress on Wednesday.

Climate change “will aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions,” Thomas Fingar said. “All of this threatens the domestic stability of a number of African, Asian, Central American and Central Asian countries.”

People are likely to flee destabilized countries, and some may turn to terrorism, he said.

“The conditions exacerbated by the effects of climate change could increase the pool of potential recruits into terrorist activity,” he said.

“Economic refugees will perceive additional reasons to flee their homes because of harsher climates,” Fingar predicted. That will put pressure on countries receiving refugees, many of which “will have neither the resources nor interest to host these climate migrants,” he said in testimony to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Reactions to the report broke down along partisan lines, with Democrats generally praising it and Republicans expressing doubts. Committee members had concerns about the report’s secrecy, reliability and use of intelligence resources.

Global warming may have a slight positive effect on the United States, since it is likely to produce larger farming yields, Fingar said

But it is also likely to result in storm surges that could affect nuclear facilities and oil refineries near coasts, water shortages in the Southwest and longer summers with more wildfires, the study found.

International migration may also help spread disease, Fingar added, and climate change could put stress on international trade in essential commodities.

“The United States depends on a smooth-functioning international system ensuring the flow of trade and market access to critical raw materials, such as oil and gas, and security for its allies and partners. Climate change and climate change policies could affect all of these,” he warned, “with significant geopolitical consequences.”

The report was the conclusion of the most comprehensive government analysis the U.S. intelligence community has ever conducted on climate change. Fingar emphasized that it could make no hard and fast predictions, saying that the operative word in his assessment was “may.”

Wealthy countries will be able to handle the situation better than poorer ones, he said.

“We assess that no country will be immune to the effects of climate change, but some will be able to cope more effectively than others,” he said. “Most of the struggling and poor states that will suffer adverse impacts to their potential and economic security are in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Southeast Asia.

“However, the spillover — from potentially increased migration and water-related disputes — could have a harmful global impact,” he added.

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