House NDAA Would Help Dept. of Defense to Be Climate Ready

Six amphibious ships and five carriers moored in Norfolk. (Dec. 20, 2012)

On July 10, the House approved two amendments, introduced by Congressman Blumenauer, to the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would help the Department of Defense (DoD) prepare and adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

One amendment would ensure the DoD is capable of adapting to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, drought, and more intense storms, by directing the DoD to identify and seek to remove barriers that hinder it from being resilient to those impacts. 

The other amendment would ensure America’s military infrastructure is better protected from the growing threat of sea level rise by directing the DoD to consider the impacts of current and future mean sea level fluctuations in the location and design over the lifetime of the proposed military infrastructure.

As the climate continues to change, these amendments will ensure America’s military assets, operational capability, and readiness remain at the forefront in the 21stCentury.

The U.S. Military and Climate Risks

Climate change is having an impact and will continue to have an impact into the foreseeable future. Per the 2019 World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2019, climate-related risks, like extreme weather events, are the biggest and most likely threats the world faces. The risks are so high that the authors of the report were compelled to state: “of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.” 

Extreme weather events, including prolonged high temperatures, droughts, and heavy storms, are already occurring more frequently and at greater magnitude. In 2018, the U.S. experienced 14 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events across the United States, with a total cost of $91 billion. It was the 4th highest total number of events in a year, the other years were 2017, 2011 and 2016. 

These extreme weather events are a threat to military assets and readiness. For example, Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc on Tyndall Air Force Base, causing billions of dollars worth of damage. Michael damaged every building on the base, as well, as multiple fighter jets.  

Rising sea levels will also directly affect the U.S. military. A report from NOAA projects sea levels could rise as high as 9.8 feet by 2100 on the East Coast. Even six feet of sea level rise has the potential to inundate the homes of 5 million to 14 million people in the US by the end of the century.

The DoD maintains more than 1,200 military installations in the United States. Many are situated along the coasts where impacts like sea level rise, tidal flooding, and heightened storm surge are already impacting operations. A 2018 report by the Center for Climate and Security states: “over the course of the 21stcentury, the U.S. military’s domestic and international coastal military installations face significant risks from climate-driven changes in the environment, namely sea level rise and its interactions with an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.”

The NDAA Amendments 

The NDAA amendments that passed the House will help the U.S. Military continue its efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change. 

As mentioned above, one amendment would require DoD to develop plans and strategies to protect their operations, programs, and investments from climate impacts, as well as, identify and seek to remove barriers that hinder it from becoming resilient to those impacts. This amendment was based on Executive Order 13653 from the Obama administration, which directed the DoD to take similar action, including producing a report on adaptation efforts. The last DoD adaptation report to this effect was published in 2014.

The other amendment would ensure America’s military infrastructure is better protected from the growing threat of sea level rise and increased flooding. The Report on the Effects of Climate Change to the Department of Defenseidentifies rising sea levels, which will exacerbate recurrent flooding and storm surge impacts, as a significant threat. Per the report, “about two-thirds of the 79 installations addressed in this report are vulnerable to current or future recurrent flooding.” The amendment would require the DoD to ensure future infrastructure, built along the coasts, accounts for sea level rise impacts by being located and designed to minimize these impacts. Ensuring America’s military infrastructure is safe and secure from rising sea levels will better protect our soldiers, military assets, and help to maintain military readiness.

About the Authors

Joel Scata

Water and Climate Attorney, Water Initiatives, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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