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A Blueprint for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Assessment of Climate Change

This is an excerpt from an article published in War on the Rocks

By Kate Guy and Erin Sikorsky

One could be forgiven for thinking that a rising China is the only threat that the Department of Defense is preparing to confront. China is referred to as the “pacing threat” by senior defense officials, and the top news out of President Joe Biden’s inaugural visit to the Pentagon last month was a new “sprint effort” to review the U.S. approach to China. In that same visit, the president called on the Department of Defense to “rethink” and “reprioritize” security to meet the challenges of the 21st century, including climate change — but it was the China threat that got the “task force” moniker and a named leader that day. Yet in its “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” the administration mandated that climate change must now be at “the center of our national security and foreign policy,” a mandate reflected in newly released national security and defense guidance. To that end, the executive order directs the Department of Defense to prepare a comprehensive new “Climate Risk Analysis” in just 120 days — on the same timeline as the China sprint. This analysis, meant to examine the long-term, strategic security risks posed by climate change, demands at least equal investment and attention as the China effort.

Read the full article at War on the Rocks.



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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For First Time, the Pentagon IG Annual Report Identifies Climate Change as Top Challenge

By Dr. Marc Kodack

In another sign that the Department of Defense (DoD) is prioritizing climate security risks, the annual Inspector General (IG) summary of the Department’s top management challenges explicitly discusses climate change and extreme weather events. This is the first time the report has featured climate change, incorporating it along with global pandemics in a section on strengthening resiliency to non-traditional threats. 

The report explores a number of ways climate change and extreme weather challenge the DoD. It includes the following examples of the costly impact of extreme weather events on installations:  $3.6 billion in hurricane damages to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 2018 and the 2019 flooding that caused $1 billion in damages to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The report also notes the risk of rising sea levels at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; noting they are expected to rise an additional 3.6 feet by 2050 causing significant campus flooding. 

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The Pentagon’s Global Supply Chain Threatened by Climate Change

By Dr. Marc Kodack

Supply chains are the less visible parts of many large, global companies, such as Apple, Toyota, and Boeing. For each of these companies, their many suppliers incrementally provide parts that are eventually assembled into finished products, whether they are hand-held smartphones or part of vehicles that transport a few or many people. Disruptions to suppliers can have devasting effects on the ability of a company to complete finished products. The most recent example of this are the shortages in personal protective equipment, e.g., masks, surgical gowns, and face shields, for health-care workers involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Department of Defense (DoD), disruptions to its global supply chain, particularly those suppliers involved in mission-critical products and services, will degrade DoD’s ability to respond when it is called upon. When these disruptions are caused or influenced by climate change, supply chain management under climate change becomes a strategic vulnerability. The probability of a disruption to one or more critical suppliers is never-ending, given their number and dispersed locations around the globe.

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