The Center for Climate and Security, in partnership with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, held the 2018 Climate and National Security Forum: A Responsibility to Prepare. This year’s forum panels focused on the risks that climate change presents to national security on an operational and strategic level, and the challenges and opportunities in preparing to counter and manage those risks.


Panel One: What Impacts Do Climate Change Have on U.S. National Security?

As global sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more frequent and more intense, what is the impact on our nation’s military readiness and the capabilities of its forces to carry out their missions? Our distinguished panelists discussed the findings of a newly updated report by the Center for Climate and Security: Sea Level Rise, and the U.S. Military’s Mission.

Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, U.S. Army (Ret); Former Dean of the Academic Board, U.S. Military Academy at West Point

  • Weather and terrain can dictate who and where the military fights, and what equipment they'll need. We can expect climate to serve as a catalyst to conflict in regions already feeling pressures.
  • Changing climate conditions can change the accessibility of terrain, while rising temperatures can affect how military equipment operates.
  • Supply chains need renewed consideration. We need to design our equipment to better withstand future climate conditions.
  • The issue of cross-boundary water sharing will be a major security consideration going forward.

Rear Admiral Jonathan White, U.S. Navy (Ret); President of the Ocean Leadership Consortium

  • We need to make progress on how climate change impacts the geopolitical landscape. For instance, how will climate change affect the oceans and the availability of resources?
  • We need to invest in additional research and science, since these are key to the military's future. A better understanding of the oceans, air, and weather is necessary.
  • We have to improve our investment in data and analysis of the Earth's systems in order to better prepare for climate change.

General Ron Keys, U.S. Air Force (Ret); Former Commander, Air Combat Command

  • There's consensus that global sea levels will rise, it's simply a question of how much they'll rise. How this affects Department of Defense (DOD) facilities is important, given the vast number of coastal military facilities around the world.
  • Climate change can also affect the types of personnel, gear, and training you need. These impacts can force the military to make tradeoffs concerning where resources are ultimately allocated.
  • The approach to assessing these challenges is often to consider "how bad could it be, and could we stand that?"
  • Storms have become more severe and harder to deal with. As the conditions that buildings and facilities are designed to withstand change, so must their designs and capabilities change.
  • Environmental disruptions can change flood plains, which are a "leading edge indicator." If you don't take action now, you will not be ready down the road.

Vice Admiral Robert Parker, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret); Former Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area

  • Changes in the Arctic present distinct challenges, which the Coast Guard and Navy are partnering to address.
  • The Department of Homeland Security doesn't have as much history as other agencies in dealing with climate change, so that requires some adjustments in the agency's approach.
  • When it comes to climate change, it matters where you operate, since that dictates what impacts you'll feel.
  • Operations like hurricane relief and other humanitarian and emergency services have become even more prominent and vital, since events like Hurricane Sandy can wipe out an entire base. Climate also presents challenges when dealing with cities and dense populations that may be affected by these storms.
  • Current practice directs DOD to rebuild in place, due to considerations of available space and the constraints reliant on the base, but more strategic thinking is needed to adapt to climate change.
  • It can be up to 10 times more costly to pay for impacts post-disaster than to prepare ahead of time.

Joan VanDervort, Former Deputy Director for Ranges, Sea and Airspace

  • The military has to have access to land, sea, and air space for training, as well as lands that can accommodate the impact of that training. Climate change impacts like drought, flood, and fire are game changers and are having a direct impact on training right now.
  • For instance, back-to-back severe weather events caused $14 million in damages at Fort Benning, while severe rains caused $4.8 million in damages at Fort Jackson. These types of repairs dig into DOD's budget and disrupt training capacity.
  • In Alaska, training facilities were knocked out for months due to higher temperatures affecting the landscape. Wildfire risks have limited live-fire training on Camp Pendleton in California.

Hon. John Conger (Moderator), Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller); Senior Policy Advisor, Center for Climate and Security

  • There is a lot that can be done to mitigate some of the worst problems of climate change. For instance, the progression from sandbags to door dams for dealing with frequent flooding is an easy way to prevent damage and save money.
  • We have to figure out what the location-specific problems are and develop a plan to mitigate those impacts in order to continue to conduct operations.
  • We also have to think in terms of decades when drawing up a master plan and how that plan may have to be adjusted. It will cost a different amount of money depending on if we choose to respond today versus later.


Panel Two: What Actions Must the National Security Community Take to Prepare?

The climate change risks identified by our national security and intelligence communities, and the rise in destructive climate-driven impacts on the United States, are not abating. The Climate and Security Advisory Group (CSAG) has concluded that the U.S. Government has a Responsibility to Prepare to meet future challenges at home and abroad—to save lives and money, strengthen security, and advance U.S. interests worldwide. Our distinguished panel discussed the recommendations put forth by the CSAG, which detail how the Administration must expand efforts to reduce and manage the security risks of climate change and seize strategic opportunities presented by such efforts.

Hon. John Conger, Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller); Senior Policy Advisor, Center for Climate and Security

  • Communities located off-base and outer infrastructure are vital to the functioning of a base and must be accounted for in resilience planning.
  • DOD is a contingency operation, in that its aim is to prepare for a range of possible scenarios, even though you hope they end up not happening.
  • Congress doesn't typically look beyond the next few years in terms of planning, which presents a challenge for dealing with climate change, which must be addressed.

Frank Femia, Co-Founder & President, Center for Climate and Security

  • Secretary of Defense Mattis called for a whole-government approach to dealing with climate change.
  • The security community deals with risk and managing risk. Climate change is something we know is coming and we need to determine how to manage its risks—prepare the relevant authorities and investments and support our partners and allies to make strategic investments.
  • Twelve senior defense leaders have spoken out recently on how climate change has affected their missions. Requirements laid out in the National Defense Authorization Act call for each of the services to provide an assessment of its 10 most climate-vulnerable facilities.

Rear Admiral Ann C. Phillips, U.S. Navy (Ret); Former Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO

  • Climate change is an existential threat to national security. It is a risk management issue, first and foremost, and its impacts and dynamics must be incorporated into planning and projections.
  • The military has to plan based on what's coming, not just on what's happened in the past. We must continue to expand our modeling capacity and improving the science. Quantitative investments should be improved to better supplement our qualitative assessments.
  • We have to prepare both in and outside the base fenceline and across multiple agencies. We need to do a better job of connecting impacts on on-base facilities to off-base systems.
  • The education of Congress on climate issues will be key. Congress needs to direct the armed services to set up and update standards for dealing with issues and facilitating decision making.

Rear Admiral David Titley, U.S. Navy (Ret); Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, Former Oceanographer of the Navy

  • Climate change is something that needs to be dealt with regardless of politics, the military can't continue to operate in "crisis mode" in response to this problem.
  • "People, water, and change" are the three key aspects of dealing with climate change. We can no longer plan and build facilities as we've done in the past.
  • Sea level rise is likely already locked in to at least 5-8 feet over the long-term, so we must think of what we'll need 50 years from now. The military needs to lay the foundational work now for dealing with future conditions, and adjust as needed.
  • For instance, storms coming in on a higher sea level will already cause more damage than they would have in the past. The Arctic is also a game-changer and drove the Navy to get involved in climate change in the first place.
  • We tend to not think of human dimensions, but this will be a vital part of policy solutions to climate.
  • Congress will be the key to determining if we're prepared for climate impacts or not. They'll need to ask the hard questions and be forward thinking.

Hon. Sherri Goodman, Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security); Senior Fellow, Wilson Center

  • The responsibility to prepare is a fundamental concept to the issue of climate change. For other security issues, we already have an understanding that we must prepare for the worst case scenarios. We live in a time where climate instability today presents an unprecedented risk.
  • Three regions of note include the Arctic (the U.S. is lagging behind in responding here), Asia-Pacific (with cyclones/tsunamis, political instability, and mega-cities), and Africa (subject to increasingly severe droughts and the greatest wave of migration since World War II).
  • There is an opportunity to close the gap in modeling between weather and climate when we achieve those data goals. This knowledge allows us to begin to climate-proof our institutions.
  • We must also bring our allies in on this, since there are shared operations and infrastructure in case of conflict. Likewise, the U.S. military is looked to as an emergency response force and must be trained to respond accordingly.

Heather L. Messera (Moderator), Senior Fellow for Government Affairs, Center for Climate and Security

  • Integrating climate change into military operations is also a shift in culture and in how the military does business. This requires a comprehensive assessment of our means of engaging with the world.


We thank the David Rockefeller Fund and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for their support of this event.

Speaker Slides