Last week, the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) released a new report evaluating the climate resilience of US military bases in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic that provides a revealing glimpse of some of the challenges and opportunities facing the DoD as it works to implement climate security measures across its enterprise.
First, the report underscores the number one takeaway that the Climate Security Advisory Group identified in Challenge Accepted, our scorecard of the Biden Administration’s climate security policy: the need to move from words to action. The IG report shows the yawning gap between what policymakers mandate in Washington, what tools the Pentagon creates, and what actually happens (or doesn’t happen) out in the field. The report found little to no action at the bases on climate resilience, noting that, “military installation leaders focused on existing weather and energy challenges rather than analyzing their installations’ infrastructure, assets, and mission exposure and vulnerability to climate change; the DoD and Service Components did not provide guidance for implementing military installation resilience assessments; and installation leaders lacked resources to analyze and assess climate change.”
Second, the report reminds us that time is not on our side – the pace of US government bureaucracy is no match for the pace of intensifying climate change hazards. The requirements for base resilience assessments are from 2020, it’s now 2022 and the IG found, “most installation leaders at the six installations we visited in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region were unfamiliar with military installation resilience planning requirements.” Never mind that the person ultimately responsible for overseeing this line of effort for the military – the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment – was just nominated by the White House in March of this year and awaits confirmation.
Finally, the good news. DoD leadership appears receptive to the IG recommendations and in fact have already met some of them through the release of the (excellent) DoD Climate Adaptation Plan last fall. The problems identified by the IG are solvable – requiring committed, ongoing efforts to translate and communicate policy guidance out to the field, and holding bases accountable for following through. Doing so will not only make Arctic bases more resilient to climate change, but also more operationally effective in protecting US interests in the High North.