In 2006 CNA convened a Military Advisory Board (MAB) of eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals to assess the impact of global climate change on key matters of national security, and to lay the groundwork for mounting responses to the threats found.
In April 2007, CNA released the MAB’s landmark report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, that articulates the concept of climate change acting as a “threat multiplier” for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world and identifies key challenges that must be planned for now if they are to be met effectively in the future.
What GAO Found
In its Fiscal Year 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, the Department of Defense (DOD) identified climate change phenomena such as rising temperatures and sea levels as potentially impacting its infrastructure, and officials at sites GAO visited or contacted noted actual impacts they had observed. For example, according to DOD officials, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations. Impacts on DOD’s infrastructure from this erosion have included damaged roads, seawalls, and runways. In addition, officials on a Navy installation told GAO that sea level rise and resulting storm surge are the two largest threats to their waterfront infrastructure. For instance, they are concerned about possible storm surge during work on a submarine that will be cut in half while sitting in a dry dock. Officials explained that if salt water floods the submarine’s systems, it could result in severe damage.
DOD has begun to assess installations’ vulnerability to potential climate change impacts and directed its planners to incorporate consideration of climate change into certain installation planning efforts. Further, it is a DOD strategic goal to consider sustainability, including climate change adaptation, in its facility investment decisions. However, GAO identified some limitations with these efforts. Specifically:
• DOD has begun collecting data on historic and potential future vulnerabilities from coastal locations (installations and associated sites) and is developing regional sea-level rise scenarios for 704 coastal locations to be used following the collection of these data. However, it has not yet developed a plan or milestones for completing these tasks, including when it expects to finish data collection on a total of 7,591 locations worldwide. Without a plan, including interim milestones to gauge progress, DOD may not finish its assessments in a timely and complete manner.
• DOD guidance requires that both installation master planning and natural resources planning account for certain potential impacts of climate change, but the implementation of these requirements across the department varies. Installation planners said that they lack key definitions and updated guidance on construction and renovation going beyond current building codes to account for climate change. Without additional information, installation planners will be unlikely to consistently account for climate change impacts in their Master Plans and Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans.
• Installation officials rarely propose climate change adaptation projects because the services’ processes for approving and funding military construction projects do not include climate change adaptation in the criteria used to rank potential projects. As a result, installation planners may believe that climate change adaptation projects are unlikely to successfully compete with other military construction projects for funding. Without clarification of these processes, DOD may face challenges in meeting its strategic goals and the services may miss opportunities to make their facilities more resilient to the potential impacts of climate change.