Document Type

Occasional Paper

Publication Date



In the course of the past calendar year the United States has been struck by a series of droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, and floods whose size and path of resulting damage defy previously established patterns. The U.S. thus joins nations on every continent that have increasingly experienced extreme and extremely damaging weather events over the past two decades.

At the same time, the world’s oceans have been exhibiting a less-visible but equally dangerous sequence of temperature rise, acidification increase, fish kills, coastal erosion, salinity shifts, algae blooms, and steady decreases in commercially available fish and shellfish species.

Those impacts are not only significant indicators of a climate change that is rapidly increasing in the natural world, they are also warning signals of the effects of that changing climate on national and human security. A new focus is emerging on how climate change impacts ocean systems, the oceans’ subsequent vital role in exacerbating or mitigating those impacts, and how both climate and ocean systems substantially impact national security.

The stunning effects of Hurricane Sandy provided only an initial glimpse of the extensive primary, secondary, and tertiary impacts that will result from these system shifts domestically and internationally. Understanding the interconnectedness among oceans, climate, and security is therefore increasingly crucial to our collective future.

The first Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security (GC ’12) was designed to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on ocean systems and the consequent impacts on national and international security. The conference attempted to identify and prioritize the knowledge gaps in science and technology that have inhibited understanding, response, and adaptation to future threats and opportunities. It then generated a series of human security policy and governance recommendations reflecting the climate, ocean, and security continuum.

Participants agreed that the required solutions were not the responsibility of either the public sector (government), the private sector (business), or the voluntary sector (NGOs) alone—but were the responsibilities of all of these working together. They also emphasized the potential in approaching the issues from the perspective of positive economic and social opportunity, rather than focusing solely on risks and threats.

This white paper presents the observations of the conference and highlights its primary conclusions. It then expands upon those to include the extraordinary impacts—both physical and political—of the recent and ongoing series of extreme-weather phenomena that peaked in 2012 with the devastation of Sandy and has continued in 2013 with a melting Arctic and floods across the U.S. Midwest.


Supported by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation.



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