Pentagon report calls for military to prepare for climate change

by Mary Caperton Morton
Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Credit: Public Domain.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is charged with ensuring national security against threats, both domestic and foreign. Now the Pentagon has released a report detailing its strategy against a developing foe: climate change. The 20-page “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” outlines actions the military can take to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, both at home and internationally.

“Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict. Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters — all place additional burdens on economies, societies and institutions around the world,” wrote then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in a foreword to the report.

“Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained,” he wrote. “While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”

The report details how the DOD can begin adapting its plans and operations in the face of climate change, broadly calling for increased training of forces and equipment testing, improvements to infrastructure and stabilization of supply chains for emergency provisions.

More specifically, the report breaks down a few of the potential threats from climate change, which the report called a “threat multiplier” and an “immediate risk to national security.” For example:

  • Rising sea levels may lead to increased storm surges and flooding of coastal defense structures and military bases, as well as impact the execution of amphibious landings in combat situations.

  • The opening of formerly frozen Arctic sea lanes will increase the need for air, sea and land capabilities and capacity in the Arctic region in order for the DOD to monitor events, safeguard freedom of navigation, and ensure stability in this resource-rich area.

  • Increased frequency of extreme weather could impact aviation as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. Recovery from extreme weather events could require increased intervention from the National Guard.

  • Drought may impact operations, creating water shortages and fire hazards. Dust may become more of a factor during training activities, which may interfere with sensitive equipment, or may require more extensive dust control measures to meet environmental compliance requirements.

  • Stressed, threatened and endangered species and related ecosystems, on and adjacent to DOD installations, may result in changing land management requirements that could affect training and operations protocols.

Climate change is a global phenomenon and accordingly, the scope of the report is international: “The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability,” the report states.

In addition, the report states, “these developments could undermine already fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources. These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.”

The report was presented during Hagel’s speech at the 11th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, held in Peru in October.

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