While many in Washington are still wrestling with the realities of climate change, the Department of Defense has joined the ranks of those preparing to address its impacts.
The Department last week released the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap to tackle climate-induced threats to national security, including issues such as extreme weather, rising seas, food insecurity, and other climate-related woes. These cascading impacts could threaten military infrastructure and require increased military response to disasters and civil unrest, according to the 20-page report.
“In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today—from infectious disease to terrorism,” writes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the report. “A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions.”
To address those impacts, risk reduction measures will be implemented across operations for the entire department, according to the report. Military operations, infrastructure, training, and supply chains will all be assessed. The breadth of the plan is reflective of how far reaching the Department views the threat to be.
“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration,” the Associated Press reports Hagel telling military leaders last week. “We have already seen these events unfold in other regions of the world, and there are worrying signs that climate change will create serious risks to stability in our own hemisphere.”
Those remarks, delivered at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, signify more than a burgeoning awareness of climate change as a security threat, said Sherri W. Goodman, senior vice president at CNA Corporation, a nonprofit think tank that analyzes policy and decisionmaking.
“It’s significant that the secretary is focusing his remarks at the defense ministers’ meeting of the Americas on natural disasters and climate change,” she told the New York Times. “His making it a priority among the many other things he has to address — ISIS, Ebola, Russia — is a signal that the administration intends to place a priority on this in international climate change negotiations.”
That may be so, but the report also makes clear that the Department’s intent is less about the philosophical aspects of climate change and more about simply reading the writing on the wall.
“While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains,” Hagel writes. “But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action. Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning. Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure.”