March 13, 2019
Sharon Burke, director of New America's Resource Security program, testified before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Readiness on March 13, 2019. An excerpt of the testimony follows below:
Today, I am here to discuss climate change as a security issue, the challenges it presents for readiness, and the opportunities we have today to enhance the resilience of missions and capabilities to such changes. This is not a new topic for the Department of Defense. In October 2007, the Department of Defense (DoD) released “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” the first ever collective maritime strategy for the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard. It was also the first U.S. military strategy document to explicitly refer to climate change as a national security concern. In the years since, a number of documents from the Defense Department and Intelligence Community have followed that basic template, defining climate change as a national security issue and citing civilian scientific judgments. Most recently, in January 2019, the Department of Defense released “Report on the Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense” and the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the threat of climate change in the Worldwide Threat Assessment.
The scientific judgment the Department now relies on includes the Trump Administration’s National Climate Assessment, released in November 2018. The Assessment, the concerted judgment of 13 Federal agencies, painted a grim picture of projected climate change effects by the middle of the century, such as increases in high heat days, heavy precipitation, droughts, and sea level rise, as well as more volatile weather patterns. According to an October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the potential impacts of these changes worldwide include species extinctions, loss of ecosystems and habitat, decline or destruction of fisheries and coral reefs, and drops in agricultural productivity and availability of freshwater. These climate-accelerated natural phenomena will interact with human societies in ways that are not yet clear but are increasingly under examination.
Climate change will affect U.S. national interests and the safety and wellbeing of all Americans where they live, from impacts as relatively benign as shifting growing zones and as serious as the sorts of more destructive coastal storms we saw in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida in 2017 and 2018. It will shape our trade and strategic partners and allies, as well, and our adversaries, too. In 2016, the Department of Defense issued Directive 4715.21, which assigned roles for implementing climate change adaptation and resilience at bases and in operations. While the Department has not made much progress in implementing the Directive, incorporating climate change into strategy and military force development is prudent and will cost relatively little, in dollar terms. A small investment now, however, may pay significant dividends in better resilience and readiness for great power competition, military missions, and defense infrastructure in the future
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