Pentagon review to address climate change for the first time

The Pentagon is addressing climate change for the first time in its sweeping review of military strategy.

The Pentagon is set to release the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) on Monday, along with the 2011 budget request.

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In the review, Pentagon officials conclude that climate change will act as an “accelerant of instability and conflict,” ultimately placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), a key architect of Senate climate plans, was the first to draw attention to the significance of climate change in the QDR. Kerry said last week that the QDR will list climate change as a security problem that could claim U.S. lives.

“I will tell you that the defense review of the United States Pentagon next week is going to come out and list climate change for the first time as an instability factor that affects our troops and may in fact wind up costing us lives down the road,” Kerry said at a forum hosted by labor, business, veteran and other groups backing climate legislation.

The Department of Defense (DoD) must complete climate change assessments at all military installations in an effort to prevent degradation of operational readiness, according to a draft of the QDR widely circulated in defense circles. InsideDefense.com was the first to publish the QDR draft document. The final copy of the QDR, obtained by Congress Daily Jan. 29, revealed no significant changes to the climate change assessments.

Operational readiness hinges on the military’s continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. More than 30 U.S. bases are already at elevated levels of risk from sea level rise, the document said quoting data from National Intelligence Council. Apart from the rising sea level, the Pentagon also has to assess the potential increase of severe heat waves or fire conditions could have on ground combat training.

The Defense Department also acknowledges in the draft QDR that climate change will affect the military’s operating environment, roles and missions. Climate-related changes include heavy downpours; rising temperature and sea level; rapidly retreating glaciers; thawing permafrost; and lengthening ice-free seasons in oceans, lakes or rivers.

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change will have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation and weakening of fragile governments, according to the draft QDR document.

The Pentagon’s review emphasizes the need for proactive engagement with countries whose military is the only institution with the capacity to respond to a large-scale natural disaster.

“DoD’s environmental security cooperative initiatives with foreign militaries represent a non-threatening way of building trust, sharing best practices on installations management and operating practices and developing response capacity,” according to the draft document.

Congress required in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act that the Department of Defense consider the effects of climate change on all of its “facilities, capabilities and missions,” and called for the Department to incorporate such concerns into the QDR.

In order to comply with the law, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military services have all had to designate officials to study climate change, which has effectively created a new, nascent intellectual infrastructure of military and civilian officials who are well informed about the security consequences of climate change, according to a paper published in January by the Center for New American Security (CNAS).

“This intellectual infrastructure may well ensure that the study of the implications of climate change is institutionalized, keeping climate change fresh in the minds of DOD senior leadership,” said Christine Parthemore and Will Rogers in the CNAS paper.

In general, the Pentagon has focused more on energy security, as it presented a more pressing concern amid two major military operations and escalating fuel costs, according to CNAS.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, who leads the QDR process, is one of the founders of CNAS.

The QDR climate change issue also drew attention in Wired's Danger Room blog (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/01/the-greening-of-the-pentagons-ma...), which points out that Flournoy has an article on the official QDR website that outlines a vision of the “contested commons” in sea, air, space and cyberspace.

Military services have already invested in non-carbon power sources, such as solar wind, geothermal, and biomass at domestic installations, as well as alternative vehicle fuels, including hybrid, electric, hydrogen and compressed national gas, according to the QDR draft.

Ben Geman contributed to this article