Lawmakers to Pentagon: Plan for climate change

By Katherine McIntire Peters

October 4, 2007

The Defense authorization bill approved by the Senate this week would require the Pentagon to consider the effects of climate change on military capabilities, facilities and missions.

The House version of the bill (H.R. 1585) contains similar language, which means the provision likely will become law.

The measure requires military planners to assess the risks of projected climate change on current and future missions, update defense plans based on those assessments and develop the capabilities needed to reduce future impacts.

In addition, the provision specifically directs military planners to consider the effects of climate change when developing the next quadrennial defense review, national security strategy and national defense strategy. The Defense secretary is to use the mid-range projections of the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or more recent "mid-range consensus climate projections" if they are available.

The legislation follows the recommendations of a panel of retired generals and admirals who studied the impact of climate change on national security for the CNA Corp., a nonprofit research firm that includes the Center for Naval Analysis and the Institute for Public Research.

The retired leaders, who issued a report earlier this year, concluded that the national security implications of climate change are significant. Changing weather patterns are causing increased drought or flooding, for example, which leads to mass migrations of people. This threatens political and economic instability, especially in parts of Asia and Africa. Additionally, the resulting pressure on international borders is creating new tensions over vital resources such as food and water.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command and a member of the study group, said earlier this year that food and water shortages are weakening governments and fueling conflicts, especially in Africa. Such changes are important beyond basic humanitarian concerns, he said.

"We import more oil from Africa than from the Middle East, and that share will grow," Wald said. "We'll be drawn into the politics of Africa to a much greater extent."

Global warming may have practical implications for base commanders and military logisticians as well. Coastal bases at home and abroad will be affected by rising sea levels, and drought conditions could make it much harder to get potable water to troops in war zones.

By Katherine McIntire Peters

October 4, 2007