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U.S. Congress: Bipartisan Support for Investments in Combating Climate Change at the Department of Defense

Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Council on Strategic Risks, speaks to the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, March 17, 2021

By John Conger

As the Fiscal Year 2022 budget is discussed within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a budget that will reportedly include an increased focus on dealing with the threats that climate change poses to the Defense Department, the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee held a hearing on March 17 to consider the risks – and the costs – imposed by climate change.  The panel witnesses were Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Council on Strategic Risks, Senior Strategist and Advisory Board Member of the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS); and Vice Admiral (ret) Dennis McGinn, Member of the CCS Advisory Board.  

Ms. Goodman’s testimony provided a broad overview of climate security risks, highlighting the complex interaction between China’s posture and climate stresses in the Indo-Pacific, emerging dynamics in the Arctic as the ice recedes, and the impact of climate change on fragile states in Africa and violent extremist organizations that are capitalizing on and magnifying the resulting instability.  Her testimony offered several recommendations for DoD to prioritize climate change in security engagements and lead by example in resilience investments and infrastructure.  

Vice Admiral McGinn’s testimony focused on the fact that DoD has understood the security threats from climate change for many years across multiple administrations.  He recommended broad themes for the Subcommittee’s consideration of the upcoming budget request, including the need to incorporate climate as a factor across the Department, increasing investments in predictive capabilities and intelligence systems to anticipate conflict, focused and significant prioritization of resources for resilience, and finally, the need to address long-term climate security threats with broader efforts to reduce emissions.

There’s an old saying in Washington that there are actually three parties on Capitol Hill: Republicans, Democrats and Appropriators.  That has seemed less true in recent years, but there was broad unanimity on display during the hearing.  No doubts or skepticism on climate change was voiced, and it was a conservative Republican (Rep. John Carter of Fort Hood, TX) who went so far as to suggest that the Biden Administration should prioritize climate change in its national security strategy.  

There were multiple recurring themes in the Members’ questions, including: 

  • Concern for installations.  Several members invoked climate risks at their local bases and expressed interest in increased investment in resilience – both inside and outside the installation boundary;
  • Icebreaker requirements.  In discussing the Arctic, multiple members raised the need to invest in icebreakers, but also recognized the challenge of finding funding;
  • Innovation opportunities.  Members asked several times about the adequacy of DoD investments in energy and resilience innovation and what the committee could do to elevate this priority; and
  • DoD’s role in maintaining global stability.  Members recognized the destabilizing effect of climate change and were interested in just how much of a role DoD and the Combatant Commands would play in counterbalancing these impacts.

If this reception is any indication, it seems DoD will find bipartisan support if it decides to include significant climate investments in its FY 2022 budget.

Watch the full hearing in the video above.

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