On Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics released a comprehensive new survey of climate change-related risks to military infrastructure worldwide. The study, prosaically titled “Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure Initial Vulnerability Assessment Survey (SLVAS) Report,” is a response to a Congressional request from 2016,* based on the DoD’s 2015 commitment to conducting a:
…global screening level assessment to determine installation vulnerabilities to climate-related security risks with the goal of identifying serious vulnerabilities and developing necessary adaptation strategies.
The vulnerability assessment, based on a qualitative survey of military personnel at each site (see the survey questions on page 19), does not offer any specific cost estimates related to these vulnerabilities, but it does paint a concerning picture of current climate change-related risks to military installations** both at home and abroad, with around 50% of 1,684 sites reporting damage from six key categories of those risks:
• Flooding due to storm surge
• Flooding due to non-storm surge events (e.g., rain, snow, sleet, ice, river overflow)
• Extreme temperatures (both hot and cold)
Given that rapid climate change is projected to exacerbate most of the above categories of risks throughout this century (its effect on wind is less certain), the reasonable expectation is that vulnerabilities to military sites will increase unless significant resources are devoted to adapting DoD assets to this changing operational environment, and/or the rate and scale of climate change is reduced. What is potentially significant about this survey, however, is how widespread climate change-related risks to military assets already are.
Further, the report highlights the simple fact that these risks are not confined to just extreme storm surges and flooding, though those risks are significant, and that it’s not just coastal sites that are vulnerable (see maps of U.S. sites on pages 3-6). According to the survey’s summary of conclusions (page 2), of the roughly 50% of sites reporting past damage to assets from the above effects:
The highest number of reported effects resulted from drought (782) followed closely by wind (763) and non-storm surge related flooding (706). About 10% of sites indicated being affected by extreme temperatures (351), while flooding due to storm surge (225) and wildfire (210) affected about 6% of the sites reporting.
As it has done across both Republican and Democratic Administrations, the Department of Defense approaches climate change with necessary practicality. Page 7 of the report, which addresses a question many still wonder about, makes this crystal clear:
A CHANGING CLIMATE, NATIONAL SECURITY AND DOD – WHY DO WE CARE?
The nature of our mission. DoD looks at climate through the lens of its mission. From that perspective, changes in climate affect national security in several ways. Changes in climate can potentially shape the environment in which we operate and the missions we are required to do.
The safety and suitability of our infrastructure. Our warfighters require bases from which to deploy, on which to train, or to live when they are not deployed. If extreme weather makes our critical facilities unusable or necessitate costly or manpower-intensive work-arounds, that is an unacceptable impact.
So, does climate change affect the U.S. military’s ability to do its job/ fulfill its mission? This survey, coupled with a range of previous products from the DoD (that are consistent with the best available science) clearly say “yes.” Essentially, the DOD surveyed their installations and found that many are highly vulnerable to a variety of different types of extreme or severe weather events. Scientists expect heat waves, flooding, drought and wildfires to all increase over the coming decades, further increasing DOD exposure and vulnerability.
Unless significant measures are taken to prevent that scenario. While further examination is needed to more comprehensively understand the full effects of those risks (now and in the future), an increase in political will and resources for combating climate change, both in terms of slowing it down and adapting to the inevitable, is clearly necessary for enhancing the national security of the United States. Let’s not wait for another report to get started.
Read the full survey here.
*See Senate Report 114-237, page 11, accompanying S. 2806 of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2017
**According to the report (page 14), military installations are defined as any “base, camp, post, station, yard, center, homeport facility for any ship, or other activity under the jurisdiction of the DoD, including any leased facility which is located within any of the States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or Guam.”