Offutt Air Force Base under water after a Missouri River flood in 2019.
Climate Change Is Now a National Security Priority for the Pentagon
Aaron Mehta / Defense News
WASHINGTON (January 27, 2021) — The Pentagon will begin incorporating climate analysis into its war-gaming and analysis efforts as well as featuring the issue as part of its future National Defense Strategy.
The announcement by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin came shortly after President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders targeting the climate crisis.
The Defense Department “will immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments, to mitigate this driver of insecurity. As directed by the President, we will include the security implications of climate change in our risk analyses, strategy development, and planning guidance,” Austin said in a statement.
“As a leader in the interagency, the Department of Defense will also support incorporating climate risk analysis into modeling, simulation, wargaming, analysis, and the next National Defense Strategy. And by changing how we approach our own carbon footprint, the Department can also be a platform for positive change, spurring the development of climate-friendly technologies at scale.”
“There is little about what the Department does to defend the American people that is not affected by climate change,” Austin concluded. “It is a national security issue, and we must treat it as such.”
Half of America’s military bases are at risk from climate change.
For years, the DoD has acknowledged that environmental change could pose a threat to military capabilities. In fiscal 2020, the department doled out $67 million in funds to help bases alleviate or repair climate-related damage. A 2018 report by the Center for Climate and Security identified a number of key domestic military installations, including both North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton in California, as at-risk from climate change. In 2019, a number of bases were hit by large weather events, including Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which required more than $400 million in repairs.
But under the Trump administration, defense officials were careful to use such statements to acknowledge logistical concerns and they refused to comment on whether climate change is real or human-made.
That is now officially changed — unsurprisingly, given the focus Biden said his administration will place on fighting climate change, including putting former Secretary of State John Kerry into a new role with the National Security Council, where he will focus entirely on the issue.
The public version of the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy included only a single mention of climate-related concerns; the public version of the National Defense Strategy, a more DoD-focused document, did not raise the issue. Austin’s statement could be a sign the issue will feature prominently whenever the next NDS is released.
The indication from Austin that the department will look to change its carbon footprint is also notable, as the Pentagon is often reported as being the largest single consumer of fossil fuels in the United States. Already, planners in the department were looking for alternatives, such as nuclear reactors, to help limit the logistics train needed for the military.
Aaron Mehta is deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.
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