Watchdog: Pentagon taking few steps to prepare overseas bases for climate change

Watchdog: Pentagon taking few steps to prepare overseas bases for climate change
© Getty Images

The Pentagon has taken few steps to prepare its overseas installations for climate change, a government watchdog said Wednesday.

“While the military services have begun to integrate climate change adaptation into installations’ plans and project designs, this integration has been limited,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released to the public on Wednesday. “For example, only about one-third of the plans that GAO reviewed addressed climate change adaptation.”

During the Obama administration, the Pentagon issued directives for the military to adapt to climate change, which it labeled a national security threat.

ADVERTISEMENT

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey MORE has also called climate change a national security threat, telling Congress during his confirmation process that “a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.”

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE has suggested that climate change is a "hoax" and has taken steps to reverse former President Obama's actions on climate change, such as withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.

In a response to the GAO report, the Pentagon said it continues to take steps to ensure infrastructure is “fully resilient” for a “wide range of scenarios” and pledged to be prepared “to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources and readiness.”

“The department is currently reviewing guidance, including DoD Directive 4715.21, to focus on building resilience into our infrastructure,” Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of Defense for energy, installations and environment, wrote in a response included in the report, referring to an Obama administration Pentagon directive on climate change. “As we assess these policy documents, we continue to work across the military department to incorporate resilience into planning and guidance.”

But the Pentagon also took issue with the GAO’s descriptions of its policies and effects of climate change.

“The draft report states in numerous cases a Department of Defense (DOD) position or policy that is neither current nor accurate,” the response said. “Ascribing infrastructure damage specifically to climate change impacts without taking into account the effects of extreme weather events is speculative at best and misleading.”

In the report, GAO said individual weather events provide insight into how climate change might affect the Pentagon.

“In previous work examining climate change impacts on DOD infrastructure, we found that while it is not possible to link any individual weather event to climate change, these events provide insight into the potential climate-related vulnerabilities faced by DOD,” the report said.

Examples of potential effects cited in the report include flood damage at piers on coastal installations, water supply shortages due to drought or strained electrical supply due to extreme temperatures.

The Pentagon, though, has not collected enough information to manage the operational and budgetary effects of climate change, the report said. That’s because, according to GAO, some sites were exempted from a survey assessing vulnerability and the Pentagon did not consider all locations from a list of key national security sites when creating the total set of potential sites to be surveyed.

The GAO also said installation planners are often unaware that past guidance requires them to integrate climate change adaptation into their master plans.

“If installation planners are not aware of the requirement that climate change adaptation is to be integrated into installation-level planning efforts and do not receive adequate training on how to do this,” the report said, “then DOD’s overseas installations will likely have inadequate plans that do not include adaptation measures.”