On June 30, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, "Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts,” to spur the Pentagon to take action to protect its military bases from the consequences of climate change. The work, a sequel to a 2012 Department of Defense (DOD) report, the “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap,” details potential treats that DOD will face from climate change, and concludes that increasing average global temperatures, stronger and more frequent storms, rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, and rising ocean temperatures have increased the vulnerability of DOD infrastructure.
In order to assess the potential impacts, GAO reviewed DOD documents concerning climate change, infrastructure planning, and funding processes; the office also interviewed officials, and visited 15 military installations. In the report, GAO provided multiple examples of instances where climate change has impacted military facilities, especially in the Pacific region. The infrastructure at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, for instance, was damaged in mudslides and flooding following 43 straight days of rain in 2008. At the same time, Marine Corps Base Hawaii experienced a drought which increased the risk of wildfire, forcing officials to reduce live-fire training and limit the types of ammunition used.
Based on the report's findings, GAO recommended that the Pentagon form a plan and set hard deadlines to assess which military bases are vulnerable to climate change. According to the DOD, it has already begun to collect data to create an assessment of climate change impacts on about 7,591 locations worldwide, in order to prioritize necessary adaptation measures and subsequent vulnerability assessments. GAO states that without a plan or a more complete list of milestones, the DOD "may not finish its assessments in a timely and complete manner," making it more likely that avoidable risks at its facilities will not be averted.
Responding to the GAO report, John Conger, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, stated, "We are committed to maintaining the resilience of our installations in support of our mission, our war fighters and our communities. We will continue to integrate consideration of climate change and associated impacts across the Defense enterprise." DOD also commented, "Climate change may be one of any number of factors that can affect facilities and impact mission and readiness. The Department will work to review processes and criteria . . . to strengthen consideration of climate change adaptation."
GAO's report underlined the difficulties involved in putting assessments and recommendations into action. The report found there is no proposal to address climate change in the funding process for DOD projects. Officials do not pitch projects to address potential vulnerable infrastructure as they believe these "adaptation projects" for climate change have little chance of receiving military approval and funding. However, data collection to understand the security implications of climate change continues, with the potential to alter future policy. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has awarded Arizona State University a five-year, $20-million contract to research the effects of climate change and to understand how climate change impacts and natural resource depletion will impact political stability.
DOD may have difficulty going forward with climate change adaptation in the future, as Congress may decide to stand in its way. On July 24, the House passed the Department of Defense’s 2015 appropriations bill with an amendment attached to prevent any DOD spending on climate change initiatives recommended by national and international reports. While the amendment, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), is unlikely to make it through the Senate, similar legislation may crop up again.
- "Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts," Government Accountability Office
- "Pentagon to Escalate Global Warming Preparations," U.S. News
- "GAO: Pentagon needs to improve climate planning," The Hill
- "Does climate change impact national security? ASU gets $20M to find out," The Arizona Republic