Since January 2017, twenty-one senior officials at the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) have publicly raised concerns about, and recommended actions to address, the security implications of climate change, both due to its effect on military infrastructure, readiness and operations, and its broader geostrategic implications for the United States.
This includes then-Secretary of Defense, James Mattis; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva; Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer; Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph Lengyel; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment (IE&E), Lucian L. Niemeyer; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, R.D. James; Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations, Energy, and the Environment, Phyllis L. Bayer; Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Energy, John Henderson; Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Glenn Walters; Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran; Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Stephen Wilson; Army Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville; AFRICOM Commander General Thomas D. Waldhauser; Air Force Director of Civil Engineers, Major General Timothy Green; NORTHCOM/ NORAD Commander, General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy; Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, Alex Beehler; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, General Robert McMahon; General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps; and most recently, Admiral Philip Davidson, INDOPACOM Commander. The DoD also produced a survey report on the matter in January 2018, and a report to Congress on climate change threats to its critical military infrastructure and Geographic Combatant Commands in January 2019.
Below is a chronological list of written and verbal statements by these defense officials, as well as links to DoD reports and other government documents covering the climate-military nexus, that have been released during this Administration thus far. Each entry includes a link to its source, which includes more information and context.
February 12, 2019
Admiral Philip Davidson, INDOPACOM Commander
Senator Warren: The unclassified Worldwide Threat Assessment by the Director for National Intelligence said, and I’m going to quote here: “Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.” That assessment also said: “Damage to communication, energy, and transportation infrastructure could affect low-lying military bases, inflict economic costs, and cause human displacement and loss of life.” Admiral Davidson do you agree with the intelligence community’s assessment of the climate change threat?
Admiral Davidson: Yes, ma’am.
Senator Warren: So how does climate change impact operations in your area of responsibility and what are you doing to prepare for climate change?
Admiral Davidson: Well, the immediate manifestation, ma’am, is the number of ecological disaster events that are happening. I’ve just wrapped up after some four months… excuse me… three and a half months of assistance in Tinian and Saipan. A contribution of Title X forces in significant numbers, to help clear debris, to help fix roofs, to help restore the infrastructure there writ large. I’ve also been called to respond and assist in Indonesia in the wake of the earthquake and the tsunami that happened there last year – a little separate from climate change, but our assistance in terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, our ability to command and control, to marshal troops, to deliver logistics is important training for the region. It’s something that they all need. And one of the things that my headquarters does is we run a center for excellence in disaster management. That training is available not just to the Title X folks but also our interagency here in the United States, and we export those courses as well to countries throughout the Indopacific and really globally to help assist them in these matters.
Senator Warren: So, thank you. Adapting to climate change impacts our military readiness, and I’m glad that our military commanders take the threat of climate change seriously. I think we, your civilian leaders owe it to you to enact policies here in Congress that recognize that climate change is happening and that we need to do more to stop it.
January 17, 2019
The DoD releases a report to Congress on climate change threats to its critical military infrastructure and Geographic Combatant Commands.
December 13, 2018
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a “Report to Congressional Committees” titled “National Security: Long-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies” – a response to a House committee report from the last Congress accompanying the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes climate change threats to the DoD.
December 12, 2018
General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps
Sen Kaine: Right, so we really ought to be probably be looking at the higher cost. The Tyndall price tag’s about $5 billion, as I understand it. That’s not the purpose of this hearing. But talk to me about this top 10 list. The–in the Navy/Marine side, there’s a report due pursuant to the NDAA this month about sort of the top 10 installations that you feel are–have–have vulnerabilities because of climate. When are we likely to see that report?
Gen Neller: Senator, that should be forthcoming soon. I will get back to you on the exact date. I mean, I’ve seen the list, and I don’t know where the process is in actually finalizing it and signing it out to you.
But not surprisingly, it’s going to be what you might expect in the Navy. It’s going to be oceanfront areas, water rising issues. It’s going to be areas exposed to what we’ve seen now as hundred year storms that come every two or three years. We’re going to have to start addressing this so we do this correctly and spend the money correctly.
Sen Kaine: We had a very well attended hearing in Hampton Roads now nearly 2 years ago, very bipartisan Congressional delegation talking about sea level rise and the effect on Norfolk and other bases, Langley and others in the area. And it was pretty sobering, and we started thinking about, if there’s a future BRAC round or any kind of, you know, physical base rationalization, that’s got to be a vulnerability that people would be concerned about.
But one of the DoD witnesses said you should worry about sea level rise but try running a base in an area where there is a persistent drought. It’s not just sea level rise. It’s–it is–there’s all kinds of weather emergencies and challenges that all of the services are dealing with on the climate side. And we look forward to that report because it’ll help us do our job better when we get to NDAA and appropriations.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Sen Wicker: Thank you, Senator Kaine. And we certainly ought to be able to deal with issues like that apart from any BRAC round we might have.
November 5, 2018
General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
When we look at, when I look at, climate change, it’s in the category of sources of conflict around the world and things we have to respond to. So it can be great devastation requiring humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief, which the U.S. military certainly conducts routinely. In fact, I can’t think of a year since I’ve been on active duty that we haven’t conducted at least one operation in the Pacific along those lines due to extreme weather in the Pacific. And then, when you look at source of conflict – shortages of water, and those kind of things – those are all sources of conflict. So, it is very much something that we take into account in our planning as we anticipate when, where and how we may be engaged in the future and what capabilities we should have.
August 21, 2018
Senator Reed: I mentioned before that the GAO has done a study that has indicated that the Department of Defense spent over $1 billion dollars simply in military construction recovery from hurricanes and other climate effects. Do you agree with Secretary Mattis’ views that climate effects have an impact not only on the institutional forces, but also national security – droughts in Somalia. Start with Mr. Mc Mahon.
Robert H. McMahon: Senator, our military has faced weather extremes throughout its history, and the adverse impact of that we saw last year. But we’ve seen it as a military officer in the Southeast a number of times. Each year we prepared for the hurricanes that would come through. So, yes I agree with Secretary Mattis that weather can and does have an adverse effect on our ability to accomplish our mission. Risk mitigation is the preparation to ensure that we are ready for that. And if confirmed, I will continue to ensure that we are as ready as possible.
Alex Beehler: Absolutely. Echoing what General McMahon just said, and if confirmed, from my position I will do everything to encourage installations and help direct installations to properly prepare on a case by case basis for both adverse weather and effects long-term from climate. I understand that there is a report obligation coming out of the NDAA that was just passed that requires each of the services to do an assessment and a master plan impact. And if confirmed I will ensure that that effort of assessment and master plan impact is complete, comprehensive and delivered on time.
April 19, 2018
“Asked what triggered the decision to revise the 2014 document now, Richardson said “the Arctic triggered it” – and Spencer added, “the damn thing melted.”
“The Arctic ice caps are as small as they’ve been in my lifetime,” Richardson said.
“And that gives rise to strategic changes. Waterways that are open. The secretary mentioned the blue-water Arctic. Continental shelves that are exposed, and the resources on those shelves. So there are strategic issues that arise from that shrinking of the icecap. And then there’s this National Defense Strategy that’s changed our focus as well. So it’s really, from a number of perspectives, about time to do that again.”
April 17, 2018
Nominee for Commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD, General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy
Senator, it [the impact of climate change] absolutely does [create strategic challenges]. And certainly the Arctic, for example, just as you mention, the Northern Sea Route as an example, we see increased use and activity in the Arctic. I think from the NORTHCOM perspective and the NORAD perspective as well, if confirmed, I would certainly make the Arctic a priority. Because as we look to the future, look at the strategic competition we’re in, look at Russia and China, and their activities there, that is clearly something that we need to also be focused on.
April 12, 2018
Air Force Director of Civil Engineers, Major General Timothy Green
For Langley Air Force Base (AFB) which is in that same region, we’ve already raised the elevations of our new construction. We’ve already moved mechanical rooms and things like that from basements to higher elevations. So part of it’s just – as you said – prudent planning and I think that’s being done, both on the Navy side but certainly on the Air Force side. We are already altering how we do the engineering work to protect our facilities and our missions.
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment), Hon. Lucian Niemeyer
That’s the key step here. Right now, we’re taking a look at what needs to be done… what has been done. We’ve always responded to flood conditions. It’s part of what we’ve done as military engineers while we look at preserving our military capabilities across the country. We’ll continue to do that in the Hampton Roads area, in Virginia Beach. Where we can make good decisions about how high we raise a dry dock or how high we raise a dam. Those are all engineering decisions that we make every day. And we’ll continue to make those as we see conditions change around the country…
…So we are looking at adjustments to what our engineering forecasts are and to what degree we can start planning now. And just making prudent engineering decisions across the board. To be able to make our facilities resilient to whatever may happen. It could be a lot of things that ultimately could affect environmental conditions and affect our facilities. The goal is resiliency across the board.
March 13, 2018
AFRICOM Commander, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, USMC (Ret)
Senator, some of the numbers you stated are certainly overwhelming. And when it comes to the African continent, unfortunately those numbers are sometimes the order of the day. Last year, for example, in Somalia there were over 6 million people who were food insecure. This year it’s going to be around 5 million people. And that’s just in that region.
I would say from the climate perspective, is that we have seen the Sahel – the grasslands of the Sahel – recede and become desert almost a mile per year in the last decade or so. This has a significant impact on the herders who have to fight, if you will, for grasslands and water holes and the like.
So these environmental challenges put pressure on these different organizations — some are VEO [violent extremist organizations], some are criminal, but it puts pressure on these organizations just for their own livelihood.
So, consequently, in areas like northern Mali, ISIS West Africa and the northern part of Niger, these are areas that are a very concern to us. And this is why we’re trying to work so closely with those countries there, so that they can maintain security, that they can keep it, at a minimum, keep these challenges inside those particular boundaries. But there are some significant challenges, and the numbers sometimes in Africa can overwhelm you.
February 14, 2018
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Stephen Wilson:
“This last year was a great example. So we were fighting [forest] fires in California and using our C-130s to help fight those. We did the floods here, the hurricanes both in Texas as well as Florida, and as the ones came up the East Coast affecting bases like Langley. So everything we look at in terms of infrastructure we have to look at through the lens of ‘how would I build and design infrastructure that would support changes in climate.’ I think that and energy resiliency across our bases to be able to – as the Army just talked about – partner with local communities because our bases are our power projection platforms. So we got to make sure they are energy resilient.”
Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran:
“I attended a briefing by the Naval Academy here recently and they were looking out 30 years at the flood plains and the sea wall associated with the Chesapeake Bay and the Severn River. It was a pretty stark demonstration of what could happen if we don’t take some action in the next 30 years to address that rise in water level. As you know, General Walters and I, we share bases, pretty much waterfront property all over the world, so if the oceans are going to rise we’re going to be impacted everywhere. So, it does demand kind of a comprehensive look at all of our bases, especially in those areas that you already cited, in Hampton Roads, Florida, on the West Coast in San Diego, etc, so we are going to look at that very hard in the next several years.”
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Glenn Walters:
“Yes, Sir, we are a waterfront organization also. We have come to the conclusion that we’re not going to turn the tide, but we are looking at it closely. I’ve taken, in this job that I’m in right now, I’ve taken two briefs in the last eight months on what I consider our most critical vulnerability, and that’s Parris Island, South Carolina. Our logistics folks at I&L, our Deputy Commandant for I&L has done extensive work and studies, and projected out what’s the best case, what’s the worst case, and obviously there’s a big variance in there. But what I do know is that we’ll eventually have to bolster that. I’ve come to the conclusion in my own mind that it’s not today – we don’t have to build a sea wall today. But we have to consider one, and we’re monitoring it every day as we watch that. Because you remember that started out as a marsh and a little bit of an island. So marshes turn into seawater, and land turns into marsh.”
Army Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville:
“We look at some of the hazards that have happened over the last couple of…I mean, the hurricane. We had three major hurricanes. We have installations, camp post installations really in all those type [of] areas. So they certainly affect us. We got fires in certain parts of the country – that certainly affects where our post is. The flooding is certainly there. We are building some resilience. You know, an example right now – we are building, in partnership, at Schofield Barracks, a power plant in conjunction with the local area so, it’ll be used – we don’t necessarily need it – but if there’s a situation where the power goes out, we’ll have that capability, resilience. It’s a public-private partnership which I think is a good way to get after, and they seem very excited about that partnership that’s going on there…(Sen. Kaine interjection: ‘Excellent, so that’s a shared investment that’s being done by both DoD and the local community?) Gen McConville: It’s actually the community that’s actually paying for it, but we’re allowing them to use the land, and then if something happens where we lose power, we have first dibs on the power. And it’s on the grid right now, but if something happens serious, then we have the opportunity to use it.”
January 30, 2018
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations, Energy, and the Environment, Phyllis L. Bayer
“Yes, if confirmed, I will ensure the Department identifies those bases most at-risk [from climate change] and develops the measures necessary to mitigate those risks.”
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Energy, John Henderson
“Yes, I agree with Secretary Mattis’ assessment that a changing climate can impact our installations. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Air Force continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”
January 26, 2018
The Department of Defense releases a personnel survey report showing climate change-related risks to 50% of military infrastructure.
December 12, 2017
The President signs into law the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes in “SEC. 335. REPORT ON EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON DEPARTMENT
OF DEFENSE” a recognition that climate change presents a direct threat to national security, and requests a report from the DoD on how climate change affects its overall mission – including the top ten most climate-vulnerable military sites.
November 9, 2017
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, R.D. James
“As an engineer and after years as a member of the Mississippi River Commission, working with multiple Civil Works water resource projects designed to perform under extreme climatic conditions, I believe it is critical that we look at hydrologic data, analyze hydrologic trends, and understand what is happening on the ground at Army Civil Works projects. That kind of understanding is crucial to assuring those projects continue to perform as designed and that they are sufficiently resilient to face whatever future climatic events may occur…Because most Army Civil Works projects are specifically designed to safely perform and reduce risk under the extremes of the hydrologic cycle, from extreme floods to prolonged drought and everywhere in between, I believe we owe it to the communities, industries and economic sectors that depend on Civil Works systems to assure those systems are sufficiently resilient in order to dependably perform regardless of what future climatic conditions are presented.”
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues its report “Climate Change Adaptation: DoD Needs to Better Incorporate Adaptation into Planning and Collaboration at Overseas Installations.”
September 19, 2017
Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph Lengyel
“I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe…I do think that storms are becoming bigger, larger, more violent. You know, I never know if this one speck of time is an anomaly or not, but, you know, we’ve all seen now three Category 5 storms that popped out in a period of a month.”
“It impacts me because the National Guard does provide — we are the military domestic response force. We keep that as part of our job jar…For us to do that job, we have to have some force structure that’s located were the events might happen. So whether that’s in Oklahoma, where you have a lot of tornadoes, or whether that’s in the northwest, where you have a lot of fires, or whether that’s in the Gulf or along the East Coast, we need force structure that is in all 50 states, the territories and the District of Columbia, so that we can respond…It doesn’t work for me to put all of our forces on one base in any particular state.”
July 18, 2017
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva
“The dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict. And I’ll just provide one example of how that can happen and this is a man-made problem. The dams along the Nile River control the flow of water into what was the Fertile Crescent of Egypt, and any change to that water flow causes the Egyptians to become more hostile to their neighbors who are putting dams upstream of the Egyptian stretch of the Nile River. I could build that argument in a variety of countries around the world, and those are man-made problems not directly related to climate change but related to how we as humans change our environment. If you extend that argument to the kinds of things that might happen if we see tidal rises, if we see increasing weather patterns of drought and flood and forest fires and other natural events that happen inside of our environment, then we’re gonna have to be prepared for what that means in terms of the potential for instability in regions of the country where those impacts happen. Particularly today where there’s massive food instability. The Sahel in Africa is a classic example, where a small drought over a limited period of time can decimate the crops and cause instability and make that an area fertile for recruitment of extremists because they see no other way. Similarly you could look at the decimation of the fisheries off Somalia that contributed to piracy because the fishermen couldn’t make their livelihood by doing what they do best, which is fishing on the fishing grounds off of Somalia. So I think we need to be prepared for those. It will cause us to have to address questions like humanitarian disaster relief. It will also cause us to have to focus on places where climate instability might cause actual political instability in regions of the world we hadn’t previously had to pay attention to…”
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment (IE&E), Lucian L. Niemeyer
“Yes, the climate plays a pivotal role in DoD’s ability to execute our missions. The
Department has always considered risks from climate related effects such as high winds, precipitation, extreme temperatures and drought to mission readiness and execution. As Secretary Mattis has stated “the Department should be prepared to mitigate any consequences of a changing climate, including ensuring that our shipyards and installations will continue to function as required.”
“I agree that the Department must be prepared for extreme weather, but in the long run DoD must plan now to ensure it can meet future mission requirements to remain a ready and resilient fighting force. If confirmed, I will work with the Military Departments to ensure our facilities and installation plans appropriately consider the impact of a changing climate.”
“If confirmed, I will ensure that the comprehensive threat assessment and
implementation master plan [on the risks and vulnerabilities to Department missions and infrastructure associated with climate-related events] is submitted to Congress in a timely manner.”
“Secretary Mattis has passed on the desire to want to make sure that we’re incorporating what’s going on around the world with climate change into our operational plans, and I fully plan to support that, and to what extend we can prepare domestically as well for what’s happening with the climate and the environment.”
July 11, 2017
Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer
Q: Mr. Spencer, do you believe the climate is changing and that climate change will continue to affect the Navy’s installations and missions?
Spencer: “Senator, the Navy, from my briefings to date, is totally aware of the rising water issue, storm issues, et cetera. We must protect our infrastructure, and I will work hard to make sure we are keeping an eye on that because without the infrastructure, we lose readiness.”
Q: So I take that as a yes?
Spencer: “Yes, all about readiness.”
Q: And, if confirmed, under your leadership will the Navy prepare for climate change? I think this is where you are going about readiness. And I want to say that both in terms of repairing our own bases and installations and preparing for the crisis and the insecurity that climate change will exacerbate around the world.
Spencer: “Yes, Senator.”
March 14, 2017
Secretary of Defense, James Mattis
“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
“Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”
“As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”
“I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”