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Defense Science Board Report on Climate Change and Security: List of Recommendations

In the 2012 U.S. State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted the role of the military in developing clean energy.  This was a welcome mention. Building off of that, the military may also play a role in mitigating the risks of climate change. As we highlighted previously, late last year the Defense Science Board Task Force on Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security released a report outlining what the national security community could do to better prepare for and integrate the risks of climate change into operations and objectives. It’s a long, but very interesting list, which is likely to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense in the coming months. Below is a summary of the recommendations, found on pages xvi – xxii.  For the full report, click here.

Summary of Recommendations:

Recommendations on the Climate Information and Modeling Needs

The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy should expand on the Roundtable for Climate Information Services to:

  • Define requirements for information systems, catalog existing resources relevant to those requirements, identify gaps, and produce a conceptual roadmap for addressing those gaps.
  • Identify obstacles to sustained availability of climate information with international scope.
  • Define an operational framework for sustained translation of climate data records and other geophysical information into societal benefit metrics.
  • Identify approaches and mechanisms for providing sustained, timely, and actionable synthesis assessments focused on developing regions and locales beyond the current US focus, including options for growing in-country capacity.

The Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should:

  • Work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to conduct a renewed study of options for increasing the availability of low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicles for civil science satellites critical for climate observations.
  • Establish a mechanism for frequent reassessment (annual vs. decadal) of observational needs responsive to changing scientific understanding and impacts due to failures or funding, including an evaluation of impacts of such developments to the operational needs of the DOD.

The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy should work with DOD, Department of State, and USAID to identify priorities for operational (distinct from research) climate data in priority regions.

Recommendations on Roles of the National Security Community

The Director of National Intelligence should:

  • Establish, within an appropriate agency of the Intelligence Community, an intelligence group to concentrate on the effects of climate change on political and economic developments and their implications for US national security.

    – An important focus of this effort should be to project human security changes that could develop into national security issues.

    – This group should make extensive use of open sources, seek to cooperate with other domestic and international intelligence efforts, and report most of its products broadly within government and nongovernmental communities.

  • The intelligence group should commission the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Center for Climate Change and Security to produce an assessment of regional climate change hotspots that threaten human security and governmental legitimacy and exacerbate existing tensions. They should use this assessment as a confidence-building measure to promote communication between antagonistic peoples or states. This document should be the basis for interagency cooperation at the strategic and regional levels.

The President’s National Security Advisor, in conjunction with the Council on Environmental Quality, should establish an interagency working group to develop:

  • Coordinated climate change policies and actions across US governmental entities.
  • A whole of government approach on regional climate change adaptation with a focus on promoting climate change resilience and maintaining regional stability.

The President’s National Security Advisor should continue to emphasize strategic interagency documents, such as the guidance to the combatant commanders which details the link between climate change effects and the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit and should direct relevant organizations to consider this relationship in developing their regional plans.

The Deputy Secretary of State and the Deputy Secretary of Defense should:

  • Follow the example of the successful foreign military training assistance program to fashion education and training programs in the fields most relevant to adapting to climate change, e.g., hydrology, civil engineering, construction, agriculture, biology, and public health.
  • Make conflict avoidance a priority in foreign assistance (including security assistance and foreign military sales), development, and defense concept development and planning.
  • Develop a strategic communication message that links water and food security and increased storm intensity to regional stability and US national security.

Recommendations on the Roles of the Department of Defense

The Deputy Secretary of Defense should:

  • Establish a DOD-wide coordinating policy board for climate change impacts on national security. This board’s function should include:

    – A coordinating role on climate change information from the strategic and operational perspective. This would include assessing implications for the force structure, deployment options, etc.

    – Compiling and assessing climate change effects information across the geographic combatant commands to identify implications for regional stability and the development of global and regional foreign military assistance programs.

    – DOD’s interagency representative for climate change adaptation matters.

    – Serving as the focal point for information, web-enabled, that can be accessed by other Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) offices as well as the Joint Staff, Services, and combatant commands.

  • Expand the authorities of the Operational Energy Plans and Program Office to include operational climate change issues.
  • Direct the establishment of a program of climate change adaptation pilot projects in concert with related programs at USAID and other agencies to identify, solicit, and fund pilot projects focused on specific adaptation sectors and locales (e.g., management of regions or villages in Africa and Central Asia).  Examples of pilot projects and suggested activities might include, but not limited, to:- Embrace and augment the World Climate Research Program Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) for one of the sub-regions in Africa. Apply CORDEX in concert with an assessment activity similar to the Prediction of Regional Scenarios and Uncertainties for Defining European Climate Change Risks and Effects (PRUDENCE) project.

    – Extend the observational, modeling, and synthesis assessment capabilities applied today in the United States in the Upper Colorado River Basin to a priority water resource district in Africa, perhaps linked to the Nile Basin Initiative.

   –  Apply coastal hot spot pilot projects focused on offering local-scale risk assessment and planning for integrated sea level and storm impacts on the coupled water-energy-waste resources and physical infrastructures for megacities such as Lagos, Karachi, and Dahka.

    – Engage the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) international research programs, DOD commands and their in-country security partners, and international aid agencies such as USAID in identifying opportunities to share climate change-related information and bringing more visibility into stakeholder’s activities.

    – Focus on near-term, achievable, and measurable goals to develop and demonstrate end-to-end threads of core information systems while incrementally building in-country capacity and competence.

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and the Director, Joint Staff should direct development of a DOD strategic roadmap for climate change-related efforts that builds on the framework laid out in the US Navy Climate Change Roadmap to:

  • Ensure that the guidance to the combatant commanders, once signed, is considered to be adequate by the Services and combatant commands for translating the broad-level guidance offered in the Quadrennial Defense Review into actionable requirements.
  • Direct the combatant commands missions include non-combat support to address serious climate change-induced US national security vulnerabilities.

The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment should assemble an inventory of critical facilities and infrastructure to include an assessment of vulnerability to climate change effects and the means to adapt.

The Director, Joint Staff should:

  • Create a holistic approach to climate change, integrating efforts of its relevant directorates: J2 (Intelligence), J4 (Logistics), J5 (Strategic Plans and Policy), and J8 (Force Structure, Resources, and Assessment Directorate).
  • Require that climate change and disaster risk reduction be integrated into training and exercises.

The Secretaries, Chiefs of the Services, and heads of defense agencies should:

  • Better integrate climate change and disaster risk reduction considerations into exercises, training, and educational materials.
  • Establish metrics focused on risk reduction to minimize the impact of climate change on military and support operations, forces, programs, and facilities.
  • Develop guidance to ensure climate change resilience in DOD project design standards for facilities and installations, with emphasis on the elements related to energy intensive and water intensive uses.

The Secretaries and Chiefs of the Services should:

  • Assess the Services’ engineering organizations and the cost-benefits of using them in assisting climate change adaptation.
  • Utilize military to military engagement opportunities with coalition partners to enhance resilience to climate change impacts and disaster risk reduction capacities. In so doing, they should expand consideration of roles for the National Guard and reserves. (For example, knowledge of traditionally non-military skills needed to respond to climate change threats is often found in the reserves.)
  • Examine tasking authorities for domestic and international response to natural disaster or other disaster risk response situations. For example, the National Guard could bring important assets to an international disaster, as it already does in responding to domestic disasters.

United States Northern Command, with support from the Navy and Coast Guard, should identify the assets that will be needed to operate in the Arctic to include communication assets, personnel training, ice breakers, and other equipment.

The geographic combatant commands should:

  • Identify early warning indicators for those areas critical to DOD’s mission set.
  • Incorporate the guidance from the Quadrennial Defense Review and DOD Strategic Guidance on energy, security, and climate change into theater campaign plans.
  • Create a demand signal by articulating the need to understand the implications of climate change and resource scarcities in their region to support their campaign plans.
  • Include in their theater campaign plans energy, food, water, and disaster risk reduction strategies and plans for reducing vulnerabilities within their respective areas of responsibility.
  • Harness more systematically resources beyond the traditional combatant command structure, to include the National Guard, and its State Partnership Program, service engineering units such as the US Army Corps of Engineers and Naval Facilities Command, and OSD-led programs such as the Defense Environmental International Cooperation Program and the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program.
  • Conduct systematic regional or even more localized impact assessments to identify trends and where their resources should be focused. To this end, should request that the CIA Climate Change and Security Center provide a report on climate change effects and hot spots in their respective areas of responsibility. Programs such as DOD’s Climate Change and African Stability Project (Minerva Initiative) could also be utilized in such undertakings.
  • Include as a Tier 1 objective enhancing the capacity of host nation militaries and civil response readiness groups to plan for, and respond to, natural disasters (e.g., floods, coastal storm surges, and droughts).
  • Integrate into their humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and other exercise plans additional climate change-related aspects. These exercises should include interagency activity.
  • Promote the concept of coordinated management of shared natural resources like water.


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