By John Conger
In the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Congress asked the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide a report on “vulnerabilities to military installations and combatant commander requirements resulting from climate change over the next 20 years.” That report was delivered to Congress yesterday, prosaically-titled Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense.
The first sentence in the “background” section of the study is worth noting. It reaffirms that the DoD continues to take climate change seriously, as it has across four administrations, both Republican and Democrat. The sentence reads: “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense (DoD or the Department) missions, operational plans, and installations.”
There are many other important points covered in the report. It recognizes the impacts of climate change on missions, operational plans and installations, it highlights specific examples of climate impacts, it provides an overview of work that the Department is doing in this space, and it reveals that about 2/3 of the 79 military installations surveyed are already facing climate change-related risks (recurrent flooding at 15 bases, drought exposure at 43 bases, and wildfire risk to 36 bases).
However, there’s a lot missing. Among the requirements in the law, the report is supposed to include a list of the ten military bases per military service that are most vulnerable to climate change. By identifying the installations most vulnerable to climate change, both DoD and Congress would be able to prioritize resources and focus effort where it is needed most.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t do that. Instead, it provides a list of military bases it characterizes as mission assurance priority bases that somehow omits the Marine Corps entirely. It also omits both Tyndall Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune, each of which were devastated by extreme weather events in the last year and are facing multi-billion dollar recovery bills. Without question, these omissions should be addressed.
In a briefer our Climate and Security Advisory Group published last November, we provide background on the Congressional requirement, and how we think the DoD should approach its task to assess installation vulnerability. In fairness to DoD, this wasn’t an easy task. Out of respect to Congress, though, DoD should make the transition from anecdote to analysis and provide a fuller assessment, as Congress directed.
John Conger is Director of the Center for Climate and Security, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment