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For First Time, the Pentagon IG Annual Report Identifies Climate Change as Top Challenge

By Dr. Marc Kodack

In another sign that the Department of Defense (DoD) is prioritizing climate security risks, the annual Inspector General (IG) summary of the Department’s top management challenges explicitly discusses climate change and extreme weather events. This is the first time the report has featured climate change, incorporating it along with global pandemics in a section on strengthening resiliency to non-traditional threats. 

The report explores a number of ways climate change and extreme weather challenge the DoD. It includes the following examples of the costly impact of extreme weather events on installations:  $3.6 billion in hurricane damages to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 2018 and the 2019 flooding that caused $1 billion in damages to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The report also notes the risk of rising sea levels at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; noting they are expected to rise an additional 3.6 feet by 2050 causing significant campus flooding. 

The report notes that the DoD OIG plans to conduct an audit in 2021 to determine how the Navy is planning to address environmental threats to its shipyards. The report further recommends that DoD should “ensure that extreme weather and climate change are considered during facility design and investment decisions,” and needs “to develop long-term strategies and plans to reduce its vulnerabilities and to address the threats to military infrastructure and personnel readiness.”

The report also details how climate change effects have the potential to add to geo-political instability around the world in ways that could disrupt U.S. national interests. Thus, “the DoD must continue to integrate and update its risk mitigation strategies into its planning processes, which will help the DoD identify and address the most serious climate-related risks facing the global security environment.”

The DoD IG recognizes the Arctic as an area of potential future competition between the U.S. and Russia or China. The report details concerns about the current overlapping Arctic command structure between U.S. Northern Command and U.S. European Command, stating, “This overlapping command responsibility could be a source of confusion and complicates DoD planning for contingencies.”

Despite these important conclusions, the DoD OIG misses an opportunity to discuss climate change impacts on DoD’s supply chain and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). With over 300,000 suppliers in the DIB alone, including both domestic and foreign companies, climate change needs to be included in any risk assessment to the DIB. Otherwise, DoD has no way to determine what the effects will be on its ability to execute its operations around the world. Unfortunately, such a risk assessment is unlikely to be forthcoming because the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) current supply chain security strategy (here) does not consider or mention climate change. DLA oversees nine supply chains containing over 5 million items for both DoD and other federal agencies. Thus, climate risk remains outside of DLA’s strategic planning despite the consequences for DoD’s operations, both short and long-term (here).

The DoD OIG’s inclusion of climate change and extreme weather in an annual assessment of major challenges reinforces the importance of addressing climate change across DoD. Reducing climate risk assists in ensuring personnel and facilities readiness for DoD’s missions. Incorporating climate change into risk assessments of DoD’s supply chain and DIB would further reduce those risks to DoD’s organic industrial base as well as its numerous commercial suppliers.

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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