GAO: Pentagon needs to improve climate planning

The Defense Department needs to better prepare for the potential impact of climate change, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns.

The GAO report, released Monday, recommends that the Pentagon form a plan and set hard deadlines to assess which military bases are vulnerable to climate change.

If the Defense Department doesn't establish a plan on some 7,591 locations worldwide, it "may not finish its assessments in a timely and complete manner," putting the facilities in question at risk.

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The report looks at five climate change impacts the DOD has detailed as potential threats to military assets across the globe, including rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, increasing storm frequency, rising sea levels and ocean temperature.

The GAO provides multiple examples of instances where climate changes have impacted military facilities, including an Air Force radar installation in Alaska, which faces rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

The erosion limits access to the radar installation, putting daily use of the facilities at risk. If one of the radar installations goes down, the Pentagon warns that early warning systems will be diminished.

Wildfires and precipitation changes have also impacted Army training, officials told the GAO, making it difficult to train in roughly 9 out of 15 military areas.

While the Defense Department has started identifying vulnerable spots in its infrastructure, its "lack of planning" might hinder its efforts, according to the report.

"DOD may face challenges in meeting its strategic goals and the services may miss opportunities to make their facilities more resilient to the potential impacts of climate change," the report states.

The report highlights the funding process for DOD projects, which do not include proposals to address climate change.

Officials do not pitch projects to address potential vulnerable infrastructure because they believe "adaptation projects" for climate change are unlikely to receive military approving and funding, the report found.

That reluctance, the report notes, means even fewer projects that could help protect installations vulnerable to climate change are discussed or approved.

The DOD agreed with all recommendations offered by the GAO, stating it would develop a focused approach to survey all facilities that may be threatened by climate risks.

Congress might present another obstacle, however, as the House recently approved the DOD's 2015 fiscal budget with an amendment that prevents the department from spending money on climate change initiatives.

Rep. David McKinley (R-W. Va.) sponsored the measure, which bars the use of funds to implement recommendations from national and international reports on climate change. All but three Republicans voted for the amendment.

It is unlikely the Senate will include such a measure when it passes its own version of the annual spending bill, leaving it to be worked out in conference committee.