A series of executive orders signed by President Obama since his first year in office requires all federal agencies to begin planning for climate change and produce an updated adaptation plan by May of this year. The Pentagon released its second-ever climate roadmap in October. “Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” it says.
The roadmap is explicitly about adaptation – not mitigation. The Department of Defense is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, thanks to its immense fuel and energy consumption, but plans to scale back and increase efficiency are reserved for its annual Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.
A Three-Point Plan
The military’s adaptation goals are three-fold:
• To identify and assess the effects of climate change on the Department now and in the future;
• To integrate consideration of climate change into decisions at every level; and
• To maximize collaboration on expected challenges, both internally and externally.
The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), the Pentagon’s environmental science and technology program, completed an assessment last year on the vulnerability of the Department’s coastal infrastructure, noting many of the steps needed to adapt to rising seas will be less costly now than in the future. The military is concerned about readiness issues, like the increasing number of “black flag” days, when outdoor training is suspended. But a more in-depth look remains on the docket for future study.
Further exploring how climate change will affect state stability is a concern, though there are no updates on progress. It’s not clear what role the military would have in efforts to stabilize climate-vulnerable states. There are concerns about the “securitization” of climate change from those that see building climate resilience as primarily a social or development concern.
“Adaptation to climate change,” the authors write, “cannot be a separate decision-making process, but rather integrated into the Department’s existing management processes.” The Department has identified 58 directives, policies, manuals, and guidance documents that do not incorporate climate change but should. A plan for updating them is supposed to be developed this year. Since the last roadmap, several new mandates have been established that require including consideration of changing climate conditions when building new structures.
Besides incorporating climate change into every relevant point along the military’s gargantuan decision-making tree, the roadmap outlines ways the Pentagon is looking to work with other federal agencies, environmental stewardship organizations, and foreign militaries.
Such military-to-military cooperation around climate change would build on the Department’s track record of efforts to build cooperation around environmental issues and disasters, and provide an avenue for potentially addressing climate’s destabilizing effects on fragile states:
The roadmap is impressive for its breadth, but many of its core components remain aspirational. The sections on actual results and efforts since the last edition are frustratingly light. There are also places where the military’s ethos of trying to plan for everything runs into the massive scale of the climate challenge.
The full-length version of this article is available on New Security Beat.