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Climate Security: A Tale of Two Defense Hearings

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Offutt-Air-Force-Base_battling_flood_waters_190317-F-IT794-1053-1024x684.jpg
An aerial view of Offutt Air Force Base affected by major flood waters March 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Rachelle Blake)


By John Conger

Sometimes you want to hear from the very top, and sometimes you want to get into the details.  In the last couple of weeks, the U.S. Congress has done both, and each one teaches us something important about the way the Department of Defense (DoD) is planning to deal with climate change early in this Administration.

The first hearing described below included the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, covering a broad range of issues and setting the stage for the President’s budget release, which included      climate change as a priority.  The second addresses military infrastructure, which has been one of the key facets of the broader climate security portfolio within DoD.  It is the part of the climate challenge that has imposed the largest direct cost on DoD so far, and countering it also involves significant investment.  The second hearing gets into the details of this part of the portfolio.

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Congressional Hearing on Resilience Highlights Climate Change Risks

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By John Conger

On Friday, March 26, the Readiness Subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on resilience, which in recent years has become synonymous with climate change adaptation.  It was a remarkably substantive hearing, with senior representatives of the military services (LTG Douglas Gabram, Commander Army Installations Management Command; VADM Yancey Lindsey, Commander Navy Installations Command; MajGen Edward Banta, Commander Marine Corps Installations Command; and Brig Gen John Allen, Commander Air Force Civil Engineering Center) citing progress on a variety of fronts, listing actions at specific bases, and clearly communicating the seriousness of the resilience requirement in the face of climate change and the increasing impacts of extreme weather.  It was also clear, however, that they had a very long way to go.

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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.  

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The U.S. Congress Overrode Trump Veto on FY21 NDAA: Here are the Climate Security Highlights in the Bill

By John Conger

On January 1, the U.S. Senate voted to override Mr. Trump’s veto of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an 81-13 vote.  A few days earlier, the House voted 322-87 to override the veto.  It is worth noting that the Statement of Administration Policy, which lists Mr. Trump’s objections to the bill, did not express opposition to any of its climate provisions.

This bill continues the trend we’ve seen in recent years of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees passing pragmatic climate security legislation without making it a political issue.  In this bill, for example, Congress directs the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a strategy to follow up on its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, essentially asking for a plan to climate proof the DoD.  Given the signals the incoming Biden Administration has sent, there is every reason to expect it to develop an ambitious plan in response.  It also continues the trend of expanding resilience authorities by granting broad authority to fund projects that improve the climate resilience of DoD installations – even when located on private land.  (For those readers unfamiliar with the nuances of DoD funding, this is a big deal… and it’s important because climate change doesn’t recognize fence lines and sometimes the actions you need to take are outside the base.)

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