US president Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday (Dec 13), a bill that sets policy for the US military for the coming fiscal year. Surprisingly, the bill contains a sizable discussion of climate change.
In the bill, current and former top US military brass attest to the national security threat of a rapidly changing climate. By signing the bill, Trump also ordered a report on “vulnerabilities to military installations” that climate change could cause in the next 20 years.
The bill’s acknowledgement and anticipation of climate change as an urgent threat contrasts sharply the Trump administration’s past denial. The administration has scrubbed mentions of climate change from agency websites, blocked federal scientists from presenting research on the topic, and top Trump officials—like energy secretary Rick Perry and environment chief Scott Pruitt—have stated their denial of the mainstream scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.
“As global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations,” the bill reads. “In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1,000,000,000 is projected to be underwater within two decades.”
“A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years,” it continues. “In the Arctic, the combination of melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, and sea-level rise is eroding shorelines, which is damaging radar and communication installations, runways, seawalls, and training areas.”
Secretary of defense James Mattis is quoted saying that the consequences of climate change “impact our security situation.” Gordon Sullivan, former chief of staff of the US Army, is quoted as saying climate change will “lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world.”
Read the full text of the defense bill’s climate change section below:
SEC. 335. REPORT ON EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.
(a) Findings.—Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stated: “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”.
(2) Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stated: “I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.”.
(3) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford has stated: “It’s a question, once again, of being forward deployed, forward engaged, and be in a position to respond to the kinds of natural disasters that I think we see as a second or third order effect of climate change.”.
(4) Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has stated: “Over the next 20 years and more, certain pressures-population, energy, climate, economic, environmental-could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability.”.
(5) Former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gordon Sullivan has stated: “Climate change is a national security issue. We found that climate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world.”.
(6) The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has stated: “Many countries will encounter climate-induced disruptions—such as weather-related disasters, drought, famine, or damage to infrastructure—that stress their capacity to respond, cope with, or adapt. Climate-related impacts will also contribute to increased migration, which can be particularly disruptive if, for example, demand for food and shelter outstrips the resources available to assist those in need.”.
(7) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has stated: “DOD links changes in precipitation patterns with potential climate change impacts such as changes in the number of consecutive days of high or low precipitation as well as increases in the extent and duration of droughts, with an associated increase in the risk of wildfire… this may result in mission vulnerabilities such as reduced live-fire training due to drought and increased wildfire risk.”.
(8) A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years.
(9) As global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations.
(10) In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1,000,000,000 is projected to be underwater within two decades.
(11) In the western United States, drought has amplified the threat of wildfires, and floods have damaged roads, runways, and buildings on military bases.
(12) In the Arctic, the combination of melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, and sea-level rise is eroding shorelines, which is damaging radar and communication installations, runways, seawalls, and training areas.
(13) In the Yukon Training Area, units conducting artillery training accidentally started a wildfire despite observing the necessary practices during red flag warning conditions.
(b) Sense Of Congress.—It is the sense of Congress that—
(1) climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist;
(2) there are complexities in quantifying the cost of climate change on mission resiliency, but the Department of Defense must ensure that it is prepared to conduct operations both today and in the future and that it is prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on threat assessments, resources, and readiness; and
(3) military installations must be able to effectively prepare to mitigate climate damage in their master planning and infrastructure planning and design, so that they might best consider the weather and natural resources most pertinent to them.
(1) REPORT REQUIRED.—Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report on vulnerabilities to military installations and combatant commander requirements resulting from climate change over the next 20 years.
(2) ELEMENTS.—The report on vulnerabilities to military installations and combatant commander requirements required by paragraph (1) shall include the following:
(A) A list of the ten most vulnerable military installations within each service based on the effects of rising sea tides, increased flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, thawing permafrost, and any other categories the Secretary determines necessary.
(B) An overview of mitigations that may be necessary to ensure the continued operational viability and to increase the resiliency of the identified vulnerable military installations and the cost of such mitigations.
(C) A discussion of the climate-change related effects on the Department, including the increase in the frequency of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions and the theater campaign plans, contingency plans, and global posture of the combatant commanders.
(D) An overview of mitigations that may be necessary to ensure mission resiliency and the cost of such mitigations.
(3) FORM.—The report required under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.