Senior Pentagon officials are sounding the alarm on the threat climate change poses to military bases in the U.S. and abroad over the next few decades, and a new report offers an overview of the risks.
“We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday in remarks delivered at the Leaders Summit on Climate. “The climate crisis does.”
The Defense Department also released an expanded climate change report Thursday providing an overview of the threat that climate change poses to nearly 1,400 DoD installations around the world.
The report utilized the Defense Climate Assessment Tool, a statistical model developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, to screen the installations for potential climate threats under competing temperature rise scenarios (“higher” and “lower”) in 2050 and 2085. The predominant threats identified for installations are “hazards more directly tied to temperature change” such as excessive heat, drought, and wildfires.
Other climate-related threats will increase over time, though to a lesser extent, according to the report. The risks assessed include coastal and river flooding, increased energy demand, and land degradation.
Importantly, “there is no...[scenario] under which installation exposure to climate hazards is projected to decrease,” said the authors in the report’s “key takeaways” section.
While the worst is yet to come, according to climate scientists and the authors of the report, Austin said Thursday that “extreme weather caused by climate change” is already posing a major threat to military bases and readiness.
“Hurricane Michael inflicted billions of dollars of damage at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Severe flooding of the Missouri River...damaged Offutt Air Force Base, costing hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Austin. “The wildfires in California have threatened other military installations, forcing repeated evacuations.”
“The homeland is no longer a sanctuary,” said Richard Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience. “Going forward, we’re going to have to embed climate change as a consideration in all that we do.”
A DoD press release called the report “a critical first step in addressing the potential physical harm, security impacts, and degradation in readiness resulting from global climate change.”
The report recommends that DoD develop a “multiple lines of defense” approach to countering climate risks “that can include a mix of management, temporary, structural, nature-based, and nonstructural measures.”
The DoD plans to utilize the report and DCAT to “complete climate exposure assessments on all major U.S. installations within 12 months and all major OCONUS installations within 24 months,” according to the Thursday press release.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.