Climate change is permanently affecting human life with higher temperatures, greater rainfall volatility, and more frequent and intense natural disasters. There is a significant body of knowledge around the anticipated physical effects of climate change, but the subsequent human security impacts that contribute to instability are difficult to predict. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Center For Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM) asked the Columbia capstone team to conduct research on the human security impacts of climate change in three vulnerable locations in the Pacific: Papua New Guinea, Palau, and Tinian, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The team conducted desk research and interviewed stakeholders from national governments, international organizations, the U.S. military, development agencies, and non-government organizations. Through research and fieldwork, the team gained a better understanding of existing disaster planning in each location and to what extent these measures consider the human security effects of climate change.  

By identifying gaps and opportunities for improvement, the team created a body of knowledge to support data-informed decision-making that reduces future climate-induced human security risks, including potential resource shortages, forced migration, and other effects that contribute to instability. The United States recently placed climate change at the center of national security and foreign policy, which CFE-DM supports by integrating climate change into disaster and risk management planning. The capstone team contributed to this mission by identifying areas of coordination and capacity-building opportunities within these vulnerable locations to reduce the threat of instability from climate change.