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Review: The Army Climate Strategy and the Climate Security Plan for America

By Dr. Marc Kodack

The U.S. Army released its first climate strategy on February 8, the first Service within the Department of Defense (DoD) to do so. This post summarizes and comments directly on the strategy, following up with a discussion of where the strategy aligns with the Center for Climate and Security’s 2019 Climate and Security Plan for America (CSPA). For earlier assessments of the CSPA’s implementation, see here, here, here, and here.

The Army Climate Strategy

The Army Climate Strategy (ACS) is designed to directly support the Army’s core mission: ensuring that the Joint Force maintains land dominance to win any wars in which the United States is involved. Climate change is already challenging the Army’s ability to meet this mission due to increased temperatures and changes in precipitation availability, intensity, and duration. To address the full breadth of these and other climate challenges, the Army needs to ensure the resilience and adaptability of its installations, infrastructure, supply chain, and soldier health while simultaneously decreasing energy demand across its operations. The Army will need to include funding for implementation of the strategy beginning this fiscal year and continuing into the future if it is to meet the targets that it has set for itself (see below).

On page 5 of the strategy, the ACS identifies three overarching goals:

“…achieve 50% reduction in Army net GHG (greenhouse gases) pollution by 2030 compared to 2005 levels; attain net-zero Army GHG emissions by 2050; [and] proactively consider the security implications of climate change in strategy, planning, acquisition, supply chain, and programming documents and processes.”

To address these goals, the strategy includes three Lines of Effort (LOE): Installations; Acquisition and Logistics; and Training. Modernization and research, development, testing, and evaluation serve as enablers for all three LOEs. An Army Climate Action Plan will contain specific actions that need to occur across the Army to implement the ACS.

Highlights of the Installation LOE

Page 6: “Install a microgrid on every installation by 2035; attain net-zero GHG emissions from Army installations by 2045; field an all-electric non-tactical vehicle fleet by 2035; achieve on-site carbon pollution-free power generation for Army critical missions on all installations by 2040; [and] provide 100% carbon-pollution-free electricity for Army installations by 2030.”

In the strategy’s glossary on page 18, microgrids are defined as: “local electrical systems with the controls to manage multiple generation sources and loads. They can also disconnect from the power grid to operate independently during outages of the regular grid.”  The Army should consider also using microgrids to support installation water systems. Water microgrids would mirror energy microgrids in that they would permit critical missions to function uninterrupted or minimize significant degradation. This is important if an installation does not have on-installation sources of drinking water or is able to treat its wastewater. To ensure critical mission facilities would continue if third-party water services are disrupted, “water microgrids” could be modified to capture and store as much alternative water as is available on an installation so that after treatment it would then be available through a temporary distribution grid for reuse back into one or more facilities that support critical missions. 

Highlights of the Acquisition and Logistics LOE

Page 10: “field purpose-built hybrid-drive tactical vehicles by 2035 and fully electric tactical vehicles by 2050; significantly reduce operational energy and water use by 2035’; attain net-zero GHG emissions from all Army procurements by 2050; [and] analyze all Army supply chain Tier 1 sources and contracts for climate change risks and vulnerabilities by 2025.

For net-zero GHG procurements by 2050, eliminating Scope 3 GHG – emissions that derive from assets not directly owned or controlled by Army – will be an added challenge to quantify and eliminate. The Army will have to request the current GHG emissions from its tens of thousands of suppliers to establish a baseline and determine what annual reductions are necessary for the Army to reach its 2050 goal. The Security and Exchange Commission is currently considering regulations that companies disclose both their own GHGs as well as their suppliers. If this is what the SEC decides to require, the Army may be able to use this data to develop its strategy to meet the 2050 goal.

Addressing Scope 3 emissions is an area in which the Army should coordinate its efforts across DoD given the overlap between suppliers. For example, in early fiscal year 2022 the Army awarded Boeing an almost $240 million contract, whereas the Navy awarded Boeing an almost $377 million contract. 

Highlights of the Training LOE

Page 14: “update Army programs of instruction for leader development and workforce training to incorporate climate change topics no later than 2028; ensure that all Army operational and strategic exercises and simulations consider climate change risks and threats by 2028; [and] develop ways to reduce direct GHG emissions resulting from Army individual and collective training by 2028,”

While incorporating climate change into training curricula and exercises is an important first step, merely counting the number of people trained does not provide an accurate assessment of how well the Army as an organization has inculcated climate change into its internal culture. Well-designed workforce surveys conducted at regular intervals will provide data to determine if there are shifts in thinking such that decision making and the observable behaviors that result from those decisions regularly consider climate change and its risks. The future Army Climate Action Plan may include this type of measurement.

The Climate Security Plan for America and the Army Climate Strategy

In 2019, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) released the Climate Security Plan for America (CSPA). The CSPA is a roadmap for the federal government to prepare for and prevent the security threats associated with climate change. The new Army Strategy includes many of the recommendations included in the four pillars of the CSPA – Demonstrating Leadership; Assessing Climate Risks; Supporting Allies and Partners; and Preparing for and Preventing Climate Impacts.

Pillar I. Demonstrating Leadership

The ACS directly supports the CSPA recommendations (1.1; 1.3) that climate change needs to be a national security priority. The ACS directly responds to President Biden’s and Secretary of Defense Austin’s priorities and direction on climate change as exemplified by Secretary of the Army’s Wormuth’s forward to the ACS, wherein she states: “Climate change threatens America’s security and is altering the geostrategic landscape as we know it…The time to address climate change is now.”

The ACS also identifies the internal champion for the Army as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment (ASA(IE&E)), reflecting a CSPA recommendation (1.4). The ASA(IE&E) will also approve the to-be-released Army Climate Action Plan with actions for all components of the Army enterprise.

Pillar II. Assessing Climate Risks

The ACS incorporates assessment of infrastructure vulnerabilities to climate change, the effects of climate change on the Army’s military mission, and including climate effects in multiple places across LOE 1, Installations and LOE 2, Acquisition and Logistics (CSPA recommendations 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4). Across multiple intermediate objectives the overall thrust of the ACS is to identify climate risks to the Army’s mission and then create an area to focus on to address that risk.

Pillar III. Supporting Allies and Partners

The ACS does not directly address how the Army can engage its international allies and partners on the security risks of climate change. The international implications of climate change are mentioned in the ACS’s introduction, stating:

“…an increased risk of armed conflict in places where established social orders and populations are disrupted…The Army must remain ahead of adversaries seeking strategic positional advantages in a climate-altered world.” 

However, none of the interim objectives across the three LOEs include any regional engagement (CSPA recommendation 3.1), ways to prevent climate-driven fragility and conflict (CSPA recommendation 3.2), or the engagement of allies and partners on increasing climate resilience (CSPA recommendation 3.3).

The ACS is very inwardly-focused, which presents some missed opportunities. The Army certainly has international training programs, such as the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP), which is present in multiple countries around the world. The SPP could serve as a conduit to pass along the Army’s installation and facility efforts to reduce climate risks (see LOE 1) or to  provide  information on lessons learned and best practices (see LOE 3) to allies and partners. Unstated under the efforts for Tier 1 suppliers (see LOE 2) is that an unknown number of these suppliers may have locations that are outside the United States. The Army could engage U.S. allies and partners on how to address these non-U.S. Tier I supplier locations that are threatened by climate risks. The Army could also use regional security organizations, such as NATO, to exchange lessons learned, best practices as well as current policies and actions on climate security.

IV. Preparing for and Preventing Climate Impacts

One of the three primary goals of the ACS focuses on increasing climate resilience across the Army’s installations and infrastructure (CSPA recommendation 4.1). Although the ACS does not address the full breadth of building standards that collectively increase climate resilience, such as the ability to withstand severe storms (CSPA recommendation 4.3), the ACS does describe the Army’s efforts to use the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to increase sustainability and resource efficiency. Use of LEED helps to reduce GHG emissions. Workforce training, both civilian and military, are important components of the ACS (CSPA recommendation 4.9). Whether it’s having trained LEED certified professionals (LOE 1), having an acquisition workforce that includes requirements for energy efficiency and sustainability in Army procurements (LOE 2) or requiring headquarters personnel to have climate change credentials, all assist the Army in reducing its climate risk.

Conclusion

The ACS demonstrates the Army’s commitment to address climate change and risk across its enterprise. The ACS’s implementation actions will be in the to-be-released Army Climate Action Plan. The scale and speed at which the Army implements the ACS is dependent on appropriations and priorities that Congress provides. Progress will be difficult to achieve this fiscal year to initiate actions under the ACS because of the current continuing resolution.

The ACS meets or exceeds the CSPA’s applicable recommendations for three of the four CSPA’s pillars, thus supporting DoD’s and the federal government’s efforts to address climate security. For Pillar III, the ACS and thus the Army should actively engage its allies and partners to pass along and receive from them information that collectively assists with decreasing their individual climate risk, while working to increase overall global climate security. 

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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