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The Pentagon’s Global Supply Chain Threatened by Climate Change

By Dr. Marc Kodack

Supply chains are the less visible parts of many large, global companies, such as Apple, Toyota, and Boeing. For each of these companies, their many suppliers incrementally provide parts that are eventually assembled into finished products, whether they are hand-held smartphones or part of vehicles that transport a few or many people. Disruptions to suppliers can have devasting effects on the ability of a company to complete finished products. The most recent example of this are the shortages in personal protective equipment, e.g., masks, surgical gowns, and face shields, for health-care workers involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Department of Defense (DoD), disruptions to its global supply chain, particularly those suppliers involved in mission-critical products and services, will degrade DoD’s ability to respond when it is called upon. When these disruptions are caused or influenced by climate change, supply chain management under climate change becomes a strategic vulnerability. The probability of a disruption to one or more critical suppliers is never-ending, given their number and dispersed locations around the globe.

To understand where DoD is with supply chain management under climate change, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently performed an audit.

The audit focused on how DoD assesses the effect of climate change and weather risks to its’ contractors, and thus to DoD’s operations, by examining two processes—acquisitions and supply, and mission assurance, given DoD policy requirements to include addressing climate change effects across its’ plans and procedures. Based on the results of the audit, DoD does not currently assess climate change effects to any of its’ contractors, even the subset of those supporting critical missions, and has no plans to do so. Thus, climate change risks to DoD contractors are, and will remain, undetermined, handicapping the scope, scale, and accuracy of mission assurance assessments.

While DoD has reported to the U.S. Congress on climate change effects to its’ installations, there is no on-going or contemplated effort on how climate change will affect DoD contractors, even those in the “supply chains, critical to the execution of DoD mission-essential functions.” The result will be DoD’s inability to support most of the objectives in the National Defense Strategy, e.g., “Sustaining Joint Force military advantages, both globally and in key regions; Continuously delivering performance with affordability and speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, and management systems.”

Eseentially, DoD is unprepared for disruptions, due to climate change or other disruptions, in its’ supply chain.

Dr. Marc Kodack is Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former Sustainability and Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability.

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