September 16, 2019

Senator Warren Questions Navy's Decision to Terminate Its Climate Change Task Force

Recent decision is inconsistent with Navy Secretary's 2017 statement that climate change is a military readiness issue; Warren: "I am concerned that the termination of this Task Force represents a step backward in the Navy's efforts to combat the threats posed by the climate crisis to its missions and installations."

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), sent a letter to Secretary of the U.S. Navy Richard Spencer expressing concern about reports of the "suspicious" termination of a Navy task force that helps prepare the Navy to combat the threats posed by the climate crisis and raising questions about the Navy's justification for this action. The task force was eliminated despite clear acknowledgements from the Navy Secretary and other top Department of Defense officials that climate change poses a threat to military readiness.

"Given that you identified climate change as a readiness issue for our sailors when you were nominated to be Navy Secretary and that the Department of Defense (DoD) and military commanders have clearly cited climate change as a national security threat, I am concerned that the termination of this Task Force represents a step backward in the Navy's efforts to combat the threats posed by the climate crisis to its missions and installations," wrote Senator Warren.

Since its creation in 2009, Task Force Climate Change (TFCC) has released several reports on the national security challenges posed by climate change, including assessments of how the melting Arctic impacts the Navy's operational planning and installations. A January 2019 DoD climate report cited 18 naval bases across the United States that are vulnerable to recurrent flooding or drought, and the Navy later released a list of 16 bases from coast-to-coast - as well as Guam - that are the most vulnerable to climate change risks.

"By now, the debate is over - the climate crisis is real and it poses a threat to our military," wrote Senator Warren. "Unfortunately, the Navy's decision to terminate Task Force Climate Change appears inconsistent with your commitment to treat climate change as a readiness issue and the Navy's own acknowledgment of the significant climate change vulnerabilities of its bases."

Given reports that the Navy "quietly" ended the Task Force under "suspicious" circumstances, without regard for the threat that the climate crisis poses to military readiness, and that there does not appear to be an effort to replicate the functions of the Task Force in other offices of the Navy, Senator Warren requested answers by September 27, 2019 to better understand the Navy's rationale for shutting down TFCC.

Senator Warren is a leading voice on SASC calling for action to combat the climate crisis, support clean energy and sustainability, and strengthen the military's climate change resiliency:

  • In May 2019, Senator Warren and Representative Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the Department of Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act to require DoD to adapt its infrastructure and operations to address the climate crisis and improve its energy efficiency in order to strengthen military readiness.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of SASC, wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in May calling for a review of potential threats to national security resulting from the impacts of climate change on defense contractors and the defense supply chain, and a review of the extent to which the DoD addresses climate change and other environmental risks during the contracting process. The GAO has since accepted the senators' request.
  • In April 2019, Senator Warren 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 eight military leaders during multiple SASC hearings that revealed unanimous concern about the rising threat of the climate crisis to the United States military's missions, operational plans, installations, and overall readiness. In his reply to Senator Warren, General Dunford noted, "I agree with the intelligence community's assessment of current and future national security risks posed by climate change."
  • In September 2018, Senator Warren introduced the Climate Risk Disclosure Act to require public companies, including defense contractors, to disclose critical information about their exposure to climate change-related risks and accelerate the transition to cleaner and more efficient energy sources. Senator Warren and Representatives Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) reintroduced the bill in July 2019.