Climate change a national security issue: Pentagon

WASHINGTON • Many of the US military's key installations are facing increasing difficulties due to climate change, the Pentagon has said in a report critics slammed as understating the scope of the problem.

The 22-page document released last Friday looked at 79 "priority" facilities around the US and found many vulnerable to flooding and wildfires, as well as the impacts of desertification, drought and melting permafrost.

"The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defence missions, operational plans and installations," the document states.

The military "must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of a variety of threats and conditions, including those from weather and natural events".

The report found about two-thirds of the 79 installations are or will be vulnerable to recurrent flooding, and more than half are vulnerable to current or future drought.

At Fort Greely, an Alaskan facility that is a key component of the US' missile-defence system, melting permafrost will impact cold weather testing and training.

But critics blasted the report for skimping on detail, noting it did not mention several recent hurricanes that destroyed or damaged US military facilities.

Hurricane Michael, for instance, last year wrecked Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. It will cost more than US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) to rebuild.

President Donald Trump has openly dismissed claims - backed by the vast majority of important scientific bodies - that greenhouse gases caused by human activity are responsible for a rapidly warming planet, triggering ever more extreme weather.

He once claimed climate change is a Chinese hoax, and has rolled back US environmental regulations aimed at curbing the problem.

"Under current leadership, the (Defence) Department is treating climate change as a back-burner issue," said Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon under Mr Barack Obama repeatedly warned that climate change posed an immediate risk to national security, and former defence secretary James Mattis warned it impacted political stability in areas of the world where US troops operate.

The report was delivered to Congress last Thursday, but the Pentagon only published it online on Friday after reporters asked about it.

The Centre for Climate and Security said the report did not provide all the details required by Congress.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 20, 2019, with the headline 'Climate change a national security issue: Pentagon'. Print Edition | Subscribe