April 16, 2019

Senator Warren's SASC Hearing Questions Reveal Unanimity of Military Leaders on Climate Change as a Threat to Readiness

Eight-Page Letter to Chairman of Joint Chiefs General Dunford Urges Bold DoD Action to Address Climate Change Threats; "Adapting to climate change is...necessary...(to) maintain...readiness. We must act decisively to prepare for this threat"

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), sent a letter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., summarizing almost two years of questions she has asked military leaders during SASC hearings that reveal unanimous concern about the rising threat of climate change to the United States military's missions, operational plans, installations, and overall readiness.

Senator Warren has examined these risks in detail, and on six different occasions during Committee hearings since 2017, she has asked a total of eight different military leaders about the threats and challenges posed to the services by climate change. Each acknowledged the threat of climate change to military infrastructure and operations and that adapting to climate change is a factor in military readiness. Senator Warren's eight-page letter walked through these military leaders' hearing statements in detail.

"None has denied the threat of climate change," wrote Senator Warren. "This uniformity of opinion among military leaders underscores my concern about the need to act vigorously and expeditiously to mitigate this threat."

The Department of Defense (DoD) has recognized the threat of climate change for years. Although DoD's most recent report on climate change vulnerabilities to military bases reaffirmed this threat and described certain efforts to modernize infrastructure to extreme weather events, the report lacked sufficient details that were required in Section 335 of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. In addition, a November 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report made six recommendations to DoD to adapt its overseas infrastructure to climate change. While DoD partially agreed with four of these recommendations, a subsequent GAO report issued this year indicated that DoD has not fully implemented any of them. 

"The Department of Defense must do more than simply acknowledge or take piecemeal actions to address climate change while it increasingly threatens and harms our military's infrastructure and operations," wrote the senator. "Fundamentally, adapting to climate change is a necessary component of maintaining readiness. We must act decisively to prepare for this threat, and our military is as capable as anyone of leading the way."
The deficiencies in the most recent DoD report on climate change threats, combined with DoD's apparent lack of implementation of GAO recommendations to adapt its overseas bases' to climate change risks, suggest that DoD can do more to identify climate change impacts to its operations and installations and take concrete actions to mitigate these impacts. Accordingly, the senator is requesting additional information by May 13, 2019 on the most effective efforts currently being implemented by the military to build resilience to and reduce climate change risks.