The Pentagon will incorporate the “implications of climate change” in its wargaming, analysis, simulations, and its upcoming National Defense Strategy after President Joe Biden on Jan. 27 signed new executive actions aimed at addressing the issue across the whole government.
“The order clearly establishes climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security,” according to the White House. It directs a National Intelligence Estimate on security implications of climate change and elevates the special presidential envoy for climate to the National Security Council.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, in a statement following the executive actions, said the Pentagon is taking immediate steps “to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments, [and] to mitigate this driver of insecurity.”
In addition to the risk analysis in wargaming, the Defense Department will pursue ways to change its own carbon footprint, so DOD “can also be a platform for positive change, spurring the development of climate-friendly technologies at scale,” Austin wrote.
The Pentagon in 2010 began acknowledging the impacts of climate change on its missions, and bases have seen increased threats from extreme weather, Lloyd said. In 2019, 79 installations around the world faced “climate-related impacts,” he added.
“We know first-hand the risk that climate change poses to national security because it affects the work we do every day,” Austin said.
The Air Force has been at the forefront of these challenges. In March 2019, a Pentagon analysis found that the department’s base infrastructure is most at risk of all the services from climate change threats, such as recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. The report came after Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., was massively damaged by a hurricane in October 2018, and while Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., was still recovering from extreme flooding.
Climate change is also central to the Air Force’s first-ever Arctic strategy, with its impacts changing both current missions and long-term planning. For example, thawing permafrost and accelerating coastal erosion is putting the Air and Space Force’s “already sparse infrastructure at risk,” according to the strategy.
“The environment is often the greatest adversary that we face when we are undertaking operations,” and in the Arctic in particular, the reduction in permafrost has destabilized hangars and runways, and impacted the “very precise tracking capabilities” the service relies on, former Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett said in November.