Department of Defense Calls Climate Change a Present Security Threat


According to a July 2015 Department of Defense report, the “DoD recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally.” Climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict overseas, and has implications for the DoD on operations, personnel, installations, and the stability, development, and human security of other nations. This current report states that the Department of Defense sees climate change as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk. 


The report goes on to reiterate statements made earlier in the year: “The National Security Strategy, issued in February 2015, is clear that climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.” 


This most recent report looks specifically at the ways each of military's areas of responsibility must plan to mitigate these potential risks and gives a description of the resources required for an effective response.


Referred to as a “Threat Multiplier” by the DoD, global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions—that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.


For more than a decade the Pentagon and the DoD have been looking at climate change's impact on national security. In 2003 they released “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security,” which was written to “to push the boundaries of current research on climate change so we may better understand the potential implications on United States national security.” Almost every year since there has been new reports issued that look at the security implications and explores the ways that the military must plan for and address the threats.


In 2014, the DoD released the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (CCAR). The CCAR identifies three overarching goals: “to identify and assess the effects of a changing climate on the Department’s infrastructure, mission, and activities; to identify, manage, and integrate climate change considerations across the full range of Department missions and activities; and to collaborate with internal and external entities on understanding and assessing the challenges of a changing climate and developing appropriate responses to those challenges.” 


Although climate-related stress will affect fragile and conflict-affected states more than well-developed countries, all countries are subject to the effects of climate change. The DoD states they are already observing the impacts of climate change and how it shocks and stresses nations and communities, including in the United States.


There are advantages to framing climate change as a national security threat. It creates a path for environmental solutions that appeal to both sides of the isle. The military could be tasked with developing advanced green technology, helping secure the country’s utility grid and giving the US a strategic advantage over other countries in the future. This would translate to less need for imported fossil fuels and the further development of alternative fuels like solar, wind, geothermal and tidal.


The DoD is aware that imminent climate change is inevitable. They understand that improved models needs to be created that can better predict the changes. They also acknowledge that the military needs to plan for this eventuality. The ability of the United States and other countries to cope with the risks and implications of climate change requires monitoring, analysis, and integration of those risks into existing overall risk management measures.

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