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Military Must Be Ready for Climate Change, Hagel Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2014 — Climate change is a threat multiplier, and the Defense Department is taking steps to incorporate this issue into all planning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Peru today.

Climate change has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges the world already confronts, from the spread of infectious diseases to spurring armed conflicts, Hagel said at the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas.

“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere,” he said. “Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline and trigger waves of mass migration.”

This already happening in the Sahel region of Africa, where desertification is placing millions at risk, and climate extremes in Australia are worrying leaders there. The Western Hemisphere is not immune, Hagel said. “Two of the worst droughts in the Americas have occurred in the past 10 years – droughts that used to occur once a century,” he added.

Sea-level rise

“In the Caribbean, sea level rise may claim 1,200 square miles of coastal land in the next 50 years, and some islands may have to be completely evacuated,” the secretary said. “According to some estimates, rising temperatures could melt entire glaciers in the Andes, which could have cascading economic and security consequences.”

These climate trends clearly will have implications for regional militaries, Hagel said, as more extreme weather will cause more natural disasters and military personnel will be called on to deliver humanitarian assistance and relief.

“Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains and critical equipment,” the secretary said. “Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed.”

Climate change roadmap

Hagel announced a Defense Department Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap during his speech. The roadmap is based on science, he said, and describes the effects of climate change on DoD’s missions and responsibilities.

“We have nearly completed a baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of our military’s more than 7,000 bases, installations and other facilities,” Hagel said. “Drawing on these assessments, we will integrate climate change considerations into our planning, operations and training.”

Climate change affects everyone, and DoD will work with partner nations bilaterally and multilaterally to address the threat, the secretary said. “We will share our findings, our tools for assessment and our plans for resiliency,” he added. “We will also seek to learn from partner nations’ experiences as well.”

Hagel encouraged the Western Hemisphere nations represented at the conference to participate in the Defense Environmental International Cooperation program. “I recognize that our militaries play different roles and have different responsibilities in each of our nations,” he said. “I also recognize that climate change will have different impacts in different parts of the hemisphere. But there are many opportunities to work together.”

Peru will host a United Nations convention on climate change in two months, Hagel noted, adding that the militaries of the world must be part of the discussion. “We must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change, and we must be pro-active in addressing them,” he said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)