Pentagon declares climate change a ‘national security issue’

Greg Nash

The Pentagon will now consider climate change when planning war games and will incorporate the issue into its future National Defense Strategy, according to a Wednesday announcement.

“There is little about what the [Defense] Department does to defend the American people that is not affected by climate change. It is a national security issue, and we must treat it as such,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“The Department will immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments, to mitigate this driver of insecurity.”

Austin announced the change after President Biden earlier on Wednesday signed a series of executive orders aimed at addressing the climate crisis.

The shift means the Department of Defense (DOD) will now “include the security implications of climate change in our risk analyses, strategy development, and planning guidance,” according to Austin.

“As a leader in the interagency, the Department of Defense will also support incorporating climate risk analysis into modeling, simulation, wargaming, analysis, and the next National Defense Strategy. And by changing how we approach our own carbon footprint, the Department can also be a platform for positive change, spurring the development of climate-friendly technologies at scale,” he said.

The Pentagon since 2010 has acknowledged that climate change could pose a threat to where the military operates and its roles and missions.

Heavy downpours, drought, rising temperature and sea level, and repeated, raging forest fires affect the military not only at home but extending to abroad as they can have significant geopolitical impacts.

The DOD has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help bases prevent or repair climate-related damage, including Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., which was damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018, and Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., which flooded in 2019.

Under former President Trump, who repeatedly indicated he thought climate change is a “hoax,” Pentagon officials have had to tiptoe around the issue as the president routinely dismissed the scientific consensus that the phenomenon is real and caused by human activity.

While a 2019 report called the effects of a changing climate “a national security issue,” the public version of the National Defense Strategy did not mention it as a concern.

But Biden’s new push creates a shift in how the White House has traditionally thought of climate change, expanding the call from environmental agencies to those dealing with national security.

His new orders establish “climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security,” the White House said. 

Tags Climate change Climate variability and change Donald Trump Lloyd Austin National Defense Strategy

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