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Congress: Plan for climate impacts to protect national security

FILE – In this Jan. 30, 2014 photo, an RQ7 Shadow unmanned aircraft flies from its pneumatic catapult launcher at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. military bases in the Arctic and sub-Arctic are failing to harden their installations against long-term climate change as required, even though soaring temperatures and melting ice already are cracking base runways and roads and worsening flood risks up north, the Pentagon’s watchdog office said April 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Dan Joling, File)

The Government Accountability Office released a new report on national security risks of climate change just days before an unprecedented storm slammed Western Alaska. These are just the latest signals that it’s past time for a strong, comprehensive, nationally coordinated approach to dealing with climate impacts. Congress can help by passing the National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy Act (NCARS) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

NCARS has significant bipartisan support in the House and Senate. It would:

  • Authorize a chief resilience officer position in the White House to lead the national climate adaptation effort. This would establish strong leadership and a unified set of priorities to guide the nation’s resilience-building efforts.
  • Require the production of a whole-of-government National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy and Implementation Plan. This would end our reliance on individual agency activities authorized through executive action and form a dependable foundation from which to build a more resilient country.  
  • Establish interagency resilience working groups and a non-federal partners council. This would streamline agency coordination and ensure that the strategy centers the needs and insights of state, local, tribal along with territorial governments and private-sector businesses. This would also enlist the expertise of advocacy organizations and academic institutions. 
  • Drive efficient and equitable resilience solutions by requiring strategies that minimize redundancies across agencies and equitably support the most vulnerable frontline communities.

Given the growing threat climate change poses to our national security, NCARS would provide: 

Leadership, consistency and dependability: The Military Installation Resilience Review, Defense Community Infrastructure Program, and Defense Access Roads Program are just a few examples of federal efforts to address the intersection of climate preparedness and national security. However, up to now, programs like these have been piecemeal, uncoordinated with complimentary efforts in other agencies and subject to the whims of presidential administrations.

NCARS, through its requirement for a Chief Resilience Officer, would provide clear national priorities on climate resilience set by a strong leader at the highest levels of government. These priorities, alongside a long-term, integrated national strategy, would bring consistency and dependability to climate resilience work across the country.

Insight from the ground up: NCARS requires policymakers to tap into the knowledge and lived experience of community residents, workers, professionals, business owners and subject matter experts across sectors and across the country. This kind of holistic insight is critical for effective and equitable climate resilience building, and it’s a process that the military is already using to prepare its installations for climate impacts. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm that hit the Florida panhandle in 2018, Tyndall Air Force Base is taking an active approach to build the “Installation of the Future” with climate resilience at the forefront. Tyndall is effectively planning for long-term stresses and extreme events in the base and the surrounding community through nature-based coastal projects.  

In a more proactive manner, the military installations in South Florida received a grant from the Department of Defense Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation for military installation resilience review. This planning grant set the stage to identify vulnerabilities in the communities that support our installations and develop strategies and projects to adapt and build resilience. The base relies on city services such as roads, water and electricity to function — all of which are impacted by climate change.

Many military families travel to the base daily and rely on services, like childcare, that are staffed by civilians. These services must remain operational during extreme weather events. NCARS will allow these types of planning efforts on a national scale and as an accepted practice.

Climate change is a serious threat to national security, to the operation of bases at home and abroad, and to the people who live and work on those bases. In response, the U.S. military has been out front on adapting to climate impacts for decades. It’s time to bring this wisdom to the rest of the country — by adopting a national strategy to protect and prepare us for present and future climate impacts.

Rachel Jacobson serves as deputy director of American Society of Adaptation Professionals. She previously worked on climate adaptation policy and programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the University of Michigan and in the private sector.

Susanne Torriente is a global technology leader for city resilience at engineering services company Jacobs Solutions. She was Miami-Dade County’s first sustainability director and Miami Beach’s first chief resilience officer. She also worked as the assistant city manager of Ft. Lauderdale.

Tags Climate change Global warming Military National security

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