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Climate Security and the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act

By John Conger

President Biden signed the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 23, 2022, a $858 billion measure setting defense policy and authorizing spending for next year.  While the bill includes thousands of provisions addressing issues across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), its biggest impact on climate security this year is its broad support of the efforts the DoD proposed in its budget request.

In recent years, Congress has used this must-pass legislation to highlight and respond to climate threats to national security.  Past NDAAs have directed DoD to deliver strategies and plans addressing climate-related issues such as the opening Arctic or resilience to extreme weather, and have provided a wide range of new authorities to DoD to support resilience efforts. Until now, however, the bill has given less attention to the funding authorization needed to turn the plans into action.  

In the Fiscal Year 2023 budget DoD requested $3.1 billion in climate investments, focused on installation resilience and increasing operational efficiencies. The FY23 NDAA largely approved those requests, and even included modest increases in some resilience programs like the Defense Community Investment Program, the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program and the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program. This embrace of climate-related investments synchronizes with a key theme that CCS embraced in this year’s Challenge Accepted report—the need to adequately resource the climate investments of the Department.

One place the Administration’s budget request had fallen short was infrastructure investment. In places like Tyndall Air Force Base or Camp Lejeune, we have seen that when extreme weather hits, old buildings cannot withstand the impacts and newer buildings are much more likely to do so, or at least sustain less damage. The Administration’s request for military construction was $10.2 billion, but the NDAA dramatically increased that budget, adding $7.3 billion. Not every new building is a climate investment, but a healthy capital reinvestment program using updated building codes (something Congress directed in the recent past) sure is.

As in previous years, Members of Congress included many additional provisions addressing climate change and resilience, energy resilience and sustainability, and international climate collaboration. Key climate change and resilience provisions include: 

  • Authorizing the creation of a Center of Excellence in Environmental Security (Sec 311); 
  • Directing the Military Departments to select one of their installations to become an Energy Resilience Testbed where new energy technologies will be piloted (Sec 322);  
  • Imposing a restriction holding back half of OSD’s funds until the military installation resilience plans required in last year’s bill are completed (Sec 2832); 
  • Establishing a pilot wherein the DoD would establish interagency resiliency coordinators in various regions of the nation (Sec 2872); and
  • Requiring a report on the Department’s progress updating the flood maps for its installations.

Key energy and sustainability provisions include:  

  • Requiring that any non-tactical vehicle purchased or leased by the Department from FY2035 on will have to be EVs, hydrogen powered or use advanced biofuels (Sec 317);
  • Directing creation of programs in each Service to encourage energy awareness (Sec 319); and
  • Creation of a pilot program to begin using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (Sec 324).

International climate collaboration was also addressed:

  • Renaming and expanding the focus of the Defense Environmental International Cooperation program to become the Defense Operational Resilience International Cooperation program, which supports the efforts of regional commanders to collaborate with partners on environmental and operational energy issues (Sec 1212); and 
  • Incorporating the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act, legislation focused on the State Department, but which recognizes the fact that food insecurity exacerbated by climate change is contributing to instability around the world – instability that undermines US national security and the global economy (Sec 5588).

In the end, this year’s NDAA builds on several years of bipartisan support for resilience and energy efficiency across the Department with several new constructive provisions.  Most importantly, though, it embraces and funds the billions of dollars of programs the Pentagon spelled out in its FY23 request, an action that will enable the Department to sustain its forward momentum on climate security.  

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