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U.S. Military and Intelligence Community Witnesses Highlight Climate Risks to National Security in December Hearings

Rain_on_Capitol_HillBy Dr. Marc Kodack

Two U.S. Congressional hearings held in December 2019 – one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate – either included climate change (House) or included a brief question and answer exchange between a Member and a witness on climate change (Senate) during a non-climate change focused hearing. A summary of the House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities hearing is presented first. The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing exchange follows.

On December 11, 2019, the House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities held a hearing on “Climate Change in the Era of Strategic Competition.” Witnesses providing statements and answering questions included Mr. Neill Tipton, Director for Defense Intelligence (Collection and Special Programs), Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; Ms. Maria Langan-Riekhof, Director of the Strategic Futures Group, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Mr. Victorino Mercado, Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, Department of Defense; and Dr. Milan Nikolich, Director, Defense Research and Engineering for Research and Technology, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

Following are sections from the witness’s written statements that address climate change or its potential effects. Mr. Tipton, Mr. Mercado, and Dr. Nikolich issued a joint written statement. Ms. Langan-Riekhof issued a separate written statement. This is followed by a verbatim transcript of the exchanges between Members and the four witnesses.

Climate Change Highlights in Written Testimony

The joint statement of Messrs. Tipton, Mercado, and Nikolich emphasizes that climate change is one challenge that will affect the Department of Defense’s (DoD) global missions, planning, and operations, particularly in the Arctic. DoD supports research on climate issues that enable the Services to execute their missions, engages with other agencies on their climate research programs, and seeks to assess how it can ensure the continued availability of test and training ranges considering the deleterious effects of climate change can have on these ranges. Ms. Langan-Riekhof cited climate change as one of several factors that the intelligence community considers when assessing global strategic trends and threats to national security. Climate change is likely to exacerbate existing local and regional population stressors, such as water and food supply, in different parts of the world over the next 20 years and beyond. The Arctic is one area where climate change effects will increase competition between the U.S., Russia, and China.

Mr. Neil Tipton, Director for Defense Intelligence (Collection and Special Programs), Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence

Mr. Victorino Mercado, Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, Department of Defense

Dr. Milan Nikolich, Director, Defense Research and Engineering for Research and Technology, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering

Full written joint statement (here; here, here)

“As cited in the Department of Defense’s report, “Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense” provided to Congress in January, 2019, the dynamics of a changing climate have the probability to impact DoD missions, operational plans, and installations in the coming years.  The Department takes the effects of this evolving challenge seriously, as evidenced by the range of related partnerships and research undertaken over the last few years.” (page 1)

“Our 2018 National Defense Strategy prioritizes long-term strategic competition with great power competitors by focusing the Department’s efforts and resources to: 1) build a more lethal force, 2) strengthen alliances and attract new partners, and 3) reform the Department’s processes. Making progress on these lines of effort requires DoD to ensure the Joint Force is ready and resilient for current and future operations and activities impacted by a variety of emerging operational challenges and conditions, including those posed by weather and natural events. To that end, DoD factors in the effects of the environment into its mission planning and execution to build resilience.  The areas we must be most prepared for include impacts on Departmental facilities from events such as drought, flooding, and wildfires; and on changing operational demands, such as increased geopolitical instability and increased competition in the Arctic.  Our partners and colleagues in the Intelligence Community (IC) assist in identifying a number of related indirect and direct effects, primarily overseas. While the IC examines the vulnerabilities of a changing climate along with other key factors when assessing threats to U.S. national security, it does not assess the direct effects of climate change on the U.S. homeland, nor does it evaluate the scientific basis for scientific reports.  To manage all of the aforementioned issues, in January of 2016 the Department issued Department of Defense Directive 4715.21, “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience.” This directive assigns responsibilities to many levels and components of the Department, seeking to incorporate climate considerations into planning for infrastructure and operations in order to assess and manage risks associated with the impacts of a changing climate.” (pages 1-2)

“The effects of a changing climate are one such challenge that has potential impacts on DoD missions, planning, and operations. Foremost among these considerations is the Department’s approach to addressing strategic competition in the Arctic, which necessarily takes into account the region’s changing physical environment. Due to the diminishing sea ice, the Arctic’s accessibility is growing and opening the door to new economic opportunities. Strategic competitors are taking advantage of the Arctic’s increased accessibility to expand their activities in the region. Thawing permafrost and coastal erosion adversely affect some defense infrastructure, complicating the Department’s posture in the region.” (pages 2-3)

“The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E)) ensures the technological advantage of the American warfighter.  To this end, USD(R&E)’s responsibilities on climate issues fall into three areas: (1) providing guidance, direction, and oversight on climate research and technology efforts that enable the military Services to execute their missions;[1] (2) engaging in interagency and international fora on climate issues, to include the interagency sub-committee on Global Change Research; and (3) mitigating the impacts of climate issues on DoD test ranges and ensuring their availability for military training, exercises, test, and evaluation.” (page 6)”

“DoD’s research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) efforts are tightly focused on understanding and forecasting changes in the global operational environment to inform warfighter planning and operations.  Accordingly, the majority of the Department’s research investments in this area reside in the Services and are tailored to their individual needs. Within the Navy, scientists are developing methods to enable long-term observational capabilities in the Arctic, as well as developing global weather, ocean, and sea ice prediction models.  This will ensure the Navy has the capability to operate and compete in the Arctic environment.  The Army assesses future risks to DoD facilities and installations through the application of climate modeling and current information on weather patterns.   Army research is also providing new approaches to address risks to DoD Arctic facilities posed by thawing permafrost and enabling an understanding of how equipment and systems will operate in extremely cold environments.  The Air Force, Navy, and Army collaborate in the development of atmospheric modeling and weather forecasting models to predict how weather may impact military operations.  Within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) is funding research initiatives to determine the effect of sea level rise on military installations and develop risk mitigation strategies to increase infrastructure resilience.” (pages 6-7)

“Collectively, these investments are ensuring the Department’s ability to assess, anticipate, and adapt to our changing climate in a manner that enables sustained, global military capabilities to meet the objectives of the National Defense Strategy.” (page 7)

The Department’s interagency and international partners are central to our ability to manage climate risks.  As the DoD Principal to the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR), R&E ensures the Department’s subject matter experts in climate science are fully engaged with their interagency colleagues and rapidly benefit from the data, knowledge, and tools that result from this program.  The Department leverages the research activities of interagency partners with a primary mission relevant to climate issues, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  Through this collaboration, the Department gains access to standardized data sets that increase the precision and timeliness of DoD’s climate forecasting and analysis tools.  Climate issues also pose challenges for U.S. allies and partners. DoD has active bi- and multi-lateral engagements with other Arctic nations,[2] works closely with our NATO colleagues on climate research, and collaborates via The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP)[3] on global change RDT&E.” (page 8)

“DoD’s Test Resource Management Center (TRMC) ensures the Department’s testing and evaluation capabilities meet the current and future needs of the warfighter.  As part of this mission, TRMC actively monitors potential impacts of weather and natural events, as well as recovery efforts at ranges providing test and evaluation support to the Department.  TRMC works with the ranges to build awareness of potential impacts, climate science advances, and potential mitigation approaches to assist the Services in developing resilient mitigation and recovery strategies.” (page 9)

“Climate and environmental resilience efforts span all levels and across the entire Department.  Additionally, resources for assessing and responding to climate impacts are provided within existing DoD missions, funds, and capabilities and subsumed under existing risk management processes.  The Military Departments provide most of the resources for on-the ground activities in the Geographic Combatant Commands and the efforts of our Combat Support Agencies can also not be understated. Finally, this is an evolving issue that we will continue to monitor to ensure the Department is appropriately prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on future operations and activities.” (page 9)

Ms. Maria Langan-Riekhof, Director of the Strategic Futures Group, Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Full written statement

“Changing climate is just one of a multitude of factors—alongside things like demographics, economic and political factors, and technology—that the IC [Intelligence Community] considers when it examines global strategic trends and the potential threats they pose to US national security.  The IC does not assess the direct effects of climate change on the US homeland, nor does it evaluate the science behind the scientific reports.  To inform our judgments regarding the national security implications of climate change, we rely on reports produced by US federal science agencies, peer-reviewed scientific journals, and reports from international scientific organizations.  These scientific assessments, which indicate that Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are undergoing a long-term warming trend, raise critical national security questions.  Studies indicate rising temperatures can amplify extreme events such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, storm surges, droughts, wildfires, and some tropical cyclones.  Other effects, which already are in evidence, include rising sea levels, melting glaciers and ice sheets, thawing permafrost, soil degradation, ocean acidification and deoxygenation, animal and plant species redistribution, coral bleaching, and changes in ocean and atmospheric circulations.  Complexities in Earth’s systems, uncertainties in modeling, and the unpredictability of human choices—including the level of greenhouse gas emissions—make it difficult to project when and where specific disruptive events and other climatological changes will have the most significant national security effects. The IC assesses that such effects from climate change almost certainly will have an increasingly significant direct and indirect effect on the social, political, economic, and security challenges faced by the United States and other countries during the next few decades.  The combination of other environmental stresses and human activities makes it challenging to discern the national security implications of climate change in isolation.  In many cases, climate change is likely to exacerbate existing stresses, such as water or food shortages that worsen social and political conditions in a country.

The IC assesses that such effects from climate change almost certainly will have an increasingly significant direct and indirect effect on the social, political, economic, and security challenges faced by the United States and other countries during the next few decades.  The combination of other environmental stresses and human activities makes it challenging to discern the national security implications of climate change in isolation.  In many cases, climate change is likely to exacerbate existing stresses, such as water or food shortages that worsen social and political conditions in a country.

The effects of climate change are likely to compound other dynamics, including:

  • Straining physical infrastructure.
  • Contributing to instability in some countries.
  • Driving disruptive human migration.
  • Exacerbating tensions over resources.
  • Increasing competition in the Arctic.

The IC assesses that, for the next several years, the security risks for the United States linked to climate change will arise primarily from distinct extreme weather events that are compounded by worsening pre-existing problems, such as water and food insecurity, around the world.  During the next 20 years and beyond, we expect that the greatest threats will arise where multiple extreme weather events converge, driven by both climate change and these underlying climate stressors” (pages 2-3)

“The collective effects of climate change are likely to directly damage and strain overseas infrastructure critical to US national security interests.  The expected more frequent and intense heat waves and extreme precipitation events will hinder economic development by threatening vital energy resources in some strategically important countries in the developing world.

  • A warming climate will significantly increase energy demand in some countries at the same time that extreme weather and sea-level rise threaten energy supplies. High temperatures weaken generation and transmission efficiency by straining cooling systems and power lines, while more extreme precipitation patterns will reduce hydroelectric power production.
  • Physical damage to coastal transportation networks and ports also is likely to affect trade and economic activity.” (page 3)

“In the coming two decades, the IC assesses that an increasing number of countries will encounter climate-related hazards—such as extreme weather events, drought, heat, or infrastructural damage— that will stress their capacity to respond, cope, or adapt.  We already have seen water crises exacerbate social unrest in and emigration from fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa, such as Syria and Libya, in part by aggravating the effects of other factors, such as preexisting socioeconomic grievances and ineffective government institutions, according to a joint UN-World Bank study.  With continued rising temperatures, more countries are likely to face such challenges with greater frequency, increasing the risk of unrest, migration, and interstate tension.” (page 3)

“In some regions, climate-related hazards are likely to contribute to migrations that overwhelm host governments and populations and exacerbate existing social and political tensions.  As sudden extreme weather—such as floods, heatwaves, and severe tropical storms—becomes more frequent, the number of displaced people almost certainly will increase, with effects felt particularly in regions that are unaccustomed to or unprepared for such events and areas that have already absorbed large influxes of migrants, such as the Levant, Sahel, and Europe.  Rising sea levels and unexpectedly large storm surges could threaten small island states and low-lying coastal regions, including many megacities, with flooding and saltwater contamination of freshwater.” (page 3) 

“Disputes over land and water resources increasingly trigger social violence and internal conflict, particularly when they build on preexisting social and political grievances.  More frequent extreme weather events, ranging from droughts to intense rainfall, would significantly threaten agricultural production and increase food price volatility.  As the climate changes, disputes over water and access to arable land are likely to grow, prompting more such local conflicts. Moreover, scarcer land and water resources could spur speculation by international investors, pricing out local communities and increasing tensions.” (page 4)

“The IC assesses that changing conditions in the Arctic will have significant security, economic, and social implications for both Arctic and non-Arctic states.  Scientific research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that warming rates in the Arctic are more than twice the rate of the rest of the Earth, which means the Arctic could be free of ice cover in the summer as early as 2030…Additionally, thawing permafrost will imperil an estimated two-thirds of today’s Arctic civilian and energy infrastructure by mid-century.” (page 4)

“Climate change and its resulting effects have wide-ranging implications for national security, presenting risks and challenges for the US.” (page 6)

Questions and Answer Transcripts

Following is a transcript of Member’s questions related to climate change and the witness replies. The hearing video on the sub-committee’s web site does not include the opening statements nor testimony of the first three witnesses—Mr. Tipton, Ms. Langan-Riekhof, and Mr. Mercado. It begins towards the middle of Dr. Nikolich’s statement.

Dr. Nikolich, DoD (00:02)

“Service and OSD research activities are complementary, coordinated and aligned with their unique capabilities and missions. For example, the Army is updating and expanding the DoD climate assessment tool for improved forecasting of operational risks to our infrastructure. The Navy is exploring new platforms for sustained operations, observations, excuse me, in the Arctic. They’re also developing global weather, ocean and ice sea prediction models. The Navy and Air Force collaborate with interagency partners on the National Earth System prediction capability, which is the next generation of predictive models. The Air Force leverages national and Allied partners seasonal and climate model projections to provide planning products for the DoD and for the intelligence community. The Office of the Secretary Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program is identifying new approaches for ensuring infrastructure resilience to the changing climate. The Test Resource Management Center actively monitors potential impacts from weather and natural events at our test ranges. The Department’s interagency and international partners are central to our work. We are engaged in a number of interagency committees through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, such as the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. As a result of our engagement DoD benefits from the significant R&D investments across the federal government related to the changing climate. These committees also support international coordination and collaboration.”

Representative James Langevin (02:28)

“I’d like to refer back to this year’s worldwide threat assessment and the quote that “Global environmental degradation as well as climate change are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.” First of all, do you agree with the administration’s worldwide threat assessment? And, also, I want to say if you agree, then what regions of the world should we be watching most closely for climate change driven instability?”

Ms. Langan-Riekhof, ODNI (03:07)

“Chairman thank you for that question. As the National Intelligence Council takes lead with the worldwide threat testimony and my unit actually has responsibility for the climate analysis that goes into it, so, we just very recently have been looking at last year’s testimony as we, as we prepare for next year’s testimony and we continue to agree with that analytic assessment. There are a range of places to look at as far where we might see climate stresses that can lead to some type of conflict. One place, one type of area in particular will be areas where there are potential water conflicts or water disputes. And, to date water has not led to, as a single cause for any conflict between two nations. That said as we move forward and there are increasing droughts and they’re increasing strains on water resources, which, which supply more than one nation. I think those are areas that we need to be watchful for, those are in particular in the Middle East, northern Africa, as well as in South Asia where areas have experienced extreme drought. Water supplies are going to be challenging going forward and we already are seeing that those are the areas where they, you know, that could be an area of increasing tension. That’s just one example.”

Mr. Tipton, DoD (04:41)

“Mr. Chairman, thank you. We agree with Maria’s characterization of the problem. Some of the specific areas that we pay attention to, that we know of potential hotspots are sub-Saharan Africa where they are particularly vulnerable to climate variability, where droughts, floods, cyclones, desertification can cause potentially agricultural yield losses of to more than 20 percent. So, we fully support and concur with Dr. Langan-Riekhof’s assessment and monitor the same areas. Russian impact on water supplies going into Crimea. There are a variety of areas around the world, South Asia that we pay attention, but we really take the lead from the IC [intelligence community] in helping us understand those global strategic implications.”

Representative James Langevin (05:36)

“The assessment also further states that heat waves, droughts, and floods combined with poor governance practices are increasing water and food insecurity in the world. The assessment specifically mentions Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Jordan. Can you discuss further implications of social unrest, migration, and interstate tension within, within these nations, anything else you wanted to expand upon.”

Ms. Langan-Riekhof, ODNI (06:08)

“I think it’s important to remember when we think about the causes of conflicts or internal instability that for almost any of the ones were talking about it’s hard to narrow it down to a mono-cause, it’s compounding strains, climate, extreme weather events often tend to be that, that. that threat multiplier in these cases, but for a decade now we have been watching some of the implications of extended drought in the Middle East. We’ve had five years of drought conditions in Central America which has challenged agricultural production. So, again I’m going back to water issues, but when communities are strained by water, we see depleted crop production we see issues of internal migration and families moving into urban areas increasing the strain on cities and government provisions. And, in countries where there are cases of corruption or, or poor government services that just kind of ratchets up the possibility of greater instability.”

Representative James Langevin (07:21)

“So, Ms. Langan-Riekhof and Mr. Mercado, the administration’s worldwide threat assessment states, also that diminishing Arctic sea ice may increase competition particularly with Russia and China over access to sea routes and natural resources. Can you, I know you talked to this in your opening statements, but can you further characterize Russia and China’s behavior in the Arctic and moreover in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the EUCOM Commander testified that operational plans had been changed to respond to Russian movement of weapon systems to exert influence over the Arctic and I want to ask you are we postured to sufficiently to counter Russian moves to exert control over the region?”

Mr. Mercado, OSD (08:14)

“Chairman as I said in my opening statement, great power competition focused on Russia and China is of great concern for us. As we watch what Russia is doing how they’re modernizing their ports, putting missile systems, systems, modernizing their airfields so they can base aircraft out of that and how they are treating countries that want to transit the North Sea passage, asking, making them, or demanding that they ask for permission, maybe use their ice breakers and elements like that. We are concerned. When we see China who is not an Arctic nation deploy research vessels up there, engage with various countries, not directly with the countries, but through other contacts and based on my experience looking now how, what their behavior brought us in the Pacific, in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea and their track record. So, we are concerned with some of their activities up there. When we look at our posture in the Arctic, especially the northern warning center that we have that’s aging, in, was built in the 50s. I know that us and Canada are looking at options, alternatives to modernize that, but not just for that warning piece, but also all the future threats, like hypersonics, missiles, and things like that. So, the Arctic has the attention of both the Northern, NORTHCOM Commander, General Shaughnessy [O’Shaughnessy], as well as the EUCOM Commander, General Wolters, and we always do our planning by doing a intelligence assessment of the environment. So, we update all our plans based on the environment, how that could change, the intel assessment and then adjust our plans accordingly, sir.”

Representative James Langevin (10:08)

“Thank you. Mr. Mercado. Ms. Langan-Riekhof, do you want to comment please?”

Ms. Langan-Riekhof, ODNI (10:11)

“I agree with Mr. Mercado’s statements. I think we need to remember that Russia views the Arctic as an essential element of its’ national sovereignty. Just looking at its coast land, Russia’s total Arctic coast line is 24,000 kilometers and we have watched Moscow seeking to project greater influence in the Arctic through many of the things that Mr. Mercado mentioned, infrastructure development, refurbishing its military facilities, training, deployments. Russia is concerned about foreign influence. It is investing and increasing its commercial activities as sea ice declines. So, yes, this is an area of concentration for the Russians.”

And:

Representative John Garamendi (16:07)

“Thank you. Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the courtesy of joining you on this hearing. I believe all of us are aware of the work that this subcommittee has done over the last several years in addressing the climate change issue. Much of that work found its way into the Readiness Committee mark and just quickly share some of what was put into the mark and I see some colleagues here who are aware of it, but we wanted to do in mark was to make sure that the 1,100 facilities that Department of Defense mark actually it is more than a mark, it’s going to be up for a vote this afternoon or this evening at the Department of Defense and it’s 1100 facilities take into account climate change and the impacts that it will have or could have from natural events, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, deluges, whatever, oh, rising sea level also and so there’s a requirement that that the major bases have a master plan within the next three years to deal with this and also the Department of Defense’s will have limited authority, spending until there are plans that actually carry out climate resiliency. So that’ll be for all of the new MILCON programs. And, then the structures themselves will be redesigned to the maximum energy conservation and resiliency for earthquakes or tornadoes or floods or whatever it happens to be. And, we want to make sure this is a pilot program and this may fit into what Mr. Gallagher just brought up is that is energy sufficiency, microgrids, and energy conservation on all of the bases and there will be a $133 million dollars special fund to carry out these projects. And finally, we expect there will be power outages, welcome to California and PGE, and Southern California Edison. So, they’ll be black start up programs on key bases to a test it along with microgrids, microgrids to go with it. Much of what’s been discussed here is also in the bill having to do with ice breakers. And again, this committee’s played a major role. The first heavy icebreaker is in process of construction, early stages of design, nearly complete and construction soon, but it’s one that at least four that we need to deal with the challenges of the Arctic which have been discussed here in some depth. Beyond that we do know that we’re going to have to deal with sea level rise and it turns out that a lot of our bases on the shore. We have considered two different options for the largest military shipyard in the world, Norfolk. One option is to figure out what sea walls might fit, the other ways to outfit everybody with waders. And one of those two things are going to have to be done because we’re already seeing the sea level rise there. Beyond that just down the line. What else should we be doing? Let’s start with the design side of it and quickly, I don’t know, 30 seconds a piece what else should we be doing?”

Dr. Nikolich, DoD (19:34)

“Sir, I’d like to maybe bring out a few points about what we are doing in terms of basic research and understanding that can support the direction you’re describing. I’d illustrate it with, maybe with, a particular case. As we think about the receding of ice in the Arctic we concern ourselves with the idea of thawing permafrost and research that’s going on having to do with understanding of what that means in terms of the our ability to support structures and their design and along with that how we might be able to instrument some of those, put instrumentation on some of those structure so that we can determine the onset of stresses that we could take steps to correct before catastrophic damages is affected.”

Mr. Tipton, DoD (20:24)

“So, Mr. Garamendi first this is far beyond my area of expertise but from the Defense intel perspective obviously will follow the lead of our partners in research engineering in A&S in terms of how we protect our intelligence capability systems, buildings, and installed capacity that we have around the world and in the United States and will continue to work, but there are implications of those changes and what that means for the nation’s around the world and the implications then for us.”

Representative John Garamendi 20:51)

“If I might interrupt quickly. Actually, you are going to be involved in some of this, some of your assets, for anticipatory of where the fires are going, where the flood might be. There are observation platforms that are available and, in the legislation this year we do move, make those assets available for climate-related challenges.”

Mr. Mercado, DoD (21:22)

“Sir, having watched the events for our bases have felt extreme effects of weather. And also, most my time has been in the Pacific watching Guam take some severe hits, time and time again, and us failing to improve the infrastructure and learn from that. This is hugely important. From my standpoint in strategy, plans and capability, what we need to be able to do is to generate forces. So, the key to generating our forces is our bases. And so, to the degree that we can base, train, mobilize, operate, and generate those forces to where they need to be, you know, it is hugely important, so, all those things, are, are much needed.”

Representative John Garamendi (22:11)

“We will be looking at the new construction projects on Guam, specifically for that category 5 typhoon.”

Ms. Langan-Riekhof, ODNI (22:23)

“For the intelligence community over the past year we have taken steps to increase intelligence sharing and collaboration across the IC and beyond. There’s been the establishment of the Environmental Security Working Group in the spring of this year. It was sponsored by the NIC, the National Intelligence University and the civil application committee, to work across the community to share information, to make sure we’re bringing in the most recent, scientific research on climate and to look at the broad range of risks that affect all of the agencies and in the whole of the US government. That is a program that now is now meeting monthly and is exploring the range of implications.”

Representative John Garamendi (23:12)

“If I might Mr. Chairman the final 30 second comment. The work that you did on your, your subcommittee has done in the previous years informed us that the Department of Defense has a major consumer of fossil fuels of all kinds and as a result of your work in the NDAA, there will be encouragement for energy conservation on the bases, on the facilities, in the ships, planes, and so on and so forth. All of that to deal with the emissions issue.”

And:

Representative Jason Crow (24:17)

“Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for joining us today on the important topic. Mr. Mercado beginning with you, over the past several months I’ve been holding round tables with senior leaders from the Department of Defense and Department of Energy and outside experts to explore the importance and challenges associated with the effects of climate change on our operational capabilities and our installations. As the threat from extreme weather due to climate change continues to grow, we are asking our troops to fight in increasing extreme environments. At the policy and planning level how is the Department adapting its’ strategy to reflect the changing environment that we are seeking our Soldiers to operate in and what additional authorities are necessary to adapt at the rate that we’re seeing ourselves having to adapt?”

Mr. Mercado, DoD (25:04)

“Sir, I think we start with implementing the Arctic strategy that we developed and published. So, it’s one thing to develop a strategy, it’s the other thing, the next step is to implement it. And from that the ways we have identified to do that is to first build the awareness of not only the Arctic, but also trying to predict severe climate. Also, enhancing our operations. Like I said earlier about increasing the, the operations that we conduct either in the Arctic or in other places with regard to, so, we can learn and make our systems more resilient. Not only the ones that are ashore, but also our ships and also our Service members. And then the other part is, is much broader and applies to the Arctic and the Arctic strategy about working with our partners. Some of the partners like I said earlier have very large expertise in operating in these environments and we can learn from them as we work to them to increase that skill set.”

Representative Jason Crow (26:04)

“A follow-on question for the whole whoever wants to chime in on this one, you represent various agencies, you know departments, but there is a lot of our government that has equities in the Arctic, which of those are not represented here today that you think are relevant to this discussion and do you have challenges with siloing, are people within agencies silos, and are there things that Congress can do to help to break down any barriers that may exist and increase collaboration across the federal government?”

Dr. Nikolich, DoD (26:42)

“If you would allow me, maybe one, to speak to one aspect of that has to do with our research and technology area. We are participants in a number of committees under the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy that are expressly designed to help foster our collaboration and sharing of information, knowledge, models, and all the rest across the inter-agency to the benefit of all, all Executive branch members. It, it is worth pointing out that those are brought together actually as a statutory requirement. So, as a result of an act, action on the part of the Congress that is those, those communities come together.”

Representative Jason Crow (27:29)

“And is that operating effectively in your view?

Dr. Nikolich, DoD (27:32)

“Yes, sir.”

Representative Jason Crow (27:35)

“Ok. Would the others like to chime on that?”

Mr. Tipton, DoD (27:40)

“Not on that Mr. Crow, not on that specific subject, but related to your question about siloing and breaking down of barriers between some of the components. If you look at what’s happened over the last 10 years within Defense intel and the intelligence community the changes that have been implemented in terms of forcing that integration across the various practitioners within those very broad enterprises have been very, very effective. Dr. Langan-Riekhof mentioned the ESWG, the Environment Security Working Group, that’s an example of a fairly new entity that brings together all these various components to, to cause to happen that information sharing that you need to have that collaborate effect and break down those stove pipes. So, I think in a nutshell, we’ve made tremendous progress in enabling those cross close communication within the Defense intel enterprise, the IC and our relationship with Academia with all the other, folks who have a role in this kind of activity.”

Mr. Mercado, DoD (28:34)

“Sir, the value of plans is that it helps break down stovepipes. Like I said planning starts with inter-intel preparation of the environment and the assessments and then critical to planning once you have developed that plan is the posture associated with executing that plan because the plan is no good unless the, the bases and the posture that you have in the region can support that so that brings all of the other DoD components and all the Services who have to execute the plans and all the training and force development and all that that entails so at least with the strategy and how we have a resurgence of planning in the department I think that is helping to bring different parts of the department together.”

And:

Representative John Garamendi (37:35)

“Climate refugees. It was spoken earlier on the panel. The climate refugee issue is of profound importance we see them today we talk about this mostly in the Sahel of Africa, but the issue of immigration from Central America is very, very much a climate issue and we are talking climate refugees along with violence. And so we’ve seen this and we need to plan for that and not just with the military, obviously for immigration issues here in the United States, but also for dealing with our military operating as an example in the Sahel of Africa.”

And:

Representative James Langevin (39:35)

“I want to thank out witnesses again for your testimony here today again I will reiterate that I would have liked to have had the most senior leadership here testifying. They originally said you would be the best people to come and testify, but this is also a senior leadership policy issue that we are going to have to confront and deal with for the foreseeable future and so the senior leaders at the department are going to have to become more expert on this issue, this topic themselves, as they are going to have to spend more and more time dealing with the effects of climate change, the consequences, both in the planning, operations, in mitigating the effects of climate change on bases, on military planning. Again, the consequences of climate change worldwide as a result of desertification or climate drought or we might be asked to respond, again on a whole host of levels. So, I hope in the near future that we will senior leadership here as well testifying on this topic and whom themselves will be up to speed and expert in these topics as well. They are going to need to be going forward.”

To watch the hearing, click here.

Members Attending the House Hearing and Asking Questions

House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities

James Langevin (D-Rhode Island, Chairman); Elise Stefanik (R-New York, Ranking Member); Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin); and Jason Crow (D-Colorado)

House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Readiness (A Member invited to participate by Chairman Langevin, with no objections from his other sub-committee members)

John Garamendi (D-California, Chairman)

Senate Armed Services Hearing

Following is a transcript of Senator Mazie Hirono’s (D-Hawaii) exchange with the HON John Rood during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, “Strategic Threats, Ongoing Challenges, and National Defense Strategy Implementation” held on December 5, 2019. The written testimony submitted by HON Rood did not contain any mention of climate change. Thus, no excerpts from his written testimony are presented here. None of the other Senators attending the hearing or the other witness mentioned climate change in verbal exchanges or their written testimony, respectively.

Senator Mazie Hirono (01:36:59)

“The Department faced some criticism when it omitted the mention of climate change in the National Defense Strategy, and the Chief of Navy, Naval Operations in 2009 created a task force on climate change to make recommendations for policy and strategy to address climate change because it is real and it is having an impact worldwide. So, in January 2019, the Worldwide Threat Assessment was released, identifying climate change as a major threat to national security, and in January 2019, again a GAO report [this is likely the Department of Defense report to Congress] identified military installations most threatened by climate change, three of which installations are in Hawaii. So, aside from these multiple reports, what is actually being done on the policy side to address these threats? Because policy changes should drive implementation actions.”

HON John Rood, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P))

“Sure. And in things like military installations are a different Under Secretary. Under Secretary for Personnel and Resources, as well as the Under Secretary for Acquisition and Sustainment often take the lead in issuing that policy, Senator. But that being said, in terms of your other question, is there an impact on military installations and do we need to plan for that, absolutely. As climate change occurs, we must adapt to those realities in order to continue to do the military operations that are our missions.”

Senator Mazie Hirono

“My time is running out. So at least on our own military installations that have seen some devastating impacts of climate events, that is happening. But, what about things like our violent extremist organizations taking advantage of water insecurity and food scarcity to gain influence? We are moving into the worldwide arena now. Or, has drought, combined with incompetence, led to water shortages of Venezuela, and how has that influenced stability there? And, how is water scarcity influencing both partners and adversaries in the Middle East and North Africa? So, there are all these kinds of events that are linked to climate change going on worldwide, and what are our policies with regard to those concerns?”

HON Rood, USD(P)

“Well, certainly as you mentioned, resource scarcity and competition for resources and using resources as a natural resource, food and other things as a weapon is one of the things, we sometimes see violent extremist organizations or terrorist groups do. We also see nations compete over this, and this produced a lot of tension. And, so certainly it is a part of our policy approach to consider how do we address those underlying security concerns and in many cases try to engage in diplomacy, again led by the State Department typically, on those activities such as — I was just in Egypt. As an example, Egypt has real concerns about this with their neighbors right now.”

To watch the hearing, click here. Senator Hirono’s exchange with the witness begins at 01:36:59.

[1] Includes the range of activities on climate issues, from ensuring the readiness of enablers such as training ranges to direct operational support.  

[2] Including Canada, Denmark, and Norway

[3] Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia.


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