DoD Releases Strategic Sustainability Plan

Oct. 31, 2014 | BY Nick Simeone , DOD News

The Defense Department released a plan today intended to mitigate the effects of climate change on military operations and national security in what officials describe as a comprehensive framework for action through 2020 that calls for using resources more efficiently and acquiring more energy from renewable sources.

The Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan details DoD’s goals for taking sensible and measured steps to mitigate the risk on operations posed by such climate change effects as flooding, surging sea levels, severe weather and extreme temperatures, by “managing the unavoidable and preparing for the possible,” officials said in announcing the plan’s release.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called climate change a future trend that will affect U.S. national security and how the military executes its missions, including being increasingly called upon to respond to natural disasters.

Must Recognize Risk Exists to Mitigate It

“There are plenty of things we can do to mitigate the risk, but in order to mitigate risk, you have to recognize that it exists,” said John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, who added that he considers the military’s ability to conduct its mission in light of predicted environmental changes his top concern.

“We are trying to do a job here to protect the country, and this is one of those trends that might affect our ability to do that,” he said. “We cannot ignore it. We need to be aware of the risks that it poses.”

The report explains how climate change could directly affect military installations and operations, noting “some of the department’s low-lying coastal installations are threatened by coastal erosion and inundation due to sea level rise.”

Hagel has highlighted the Hampton Roads area in Virginia -- home to the largest concentration of U.S. military sites in the world -- as one area under threat. “We see recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning to work to address a projected sea level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years,” he said in releasing the department’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap earlier this year.

Conger said this is one example that shows the department is going to have to adjust to accommodate environmental change. “There are projections that we have out to 30 years where we’re looking at a foot or two feet of sea level rises in that particular area,” he said. “That will affect some of our infrastructure, but it’s not going to make the base useless.”

Extreme Heat Affects Training

In addition, the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan says conditions such as more frequent extreme heat projected with climate change could limit outdoor military training, potentially affecting readiness.

“There are ‘black flag’ days where when it’s over 90 degrees [and] you can’t have the guys running for their training,” Conger explained. “It affects live-fire training in that if it’s particularly dry, you can’t use live fire because it’s more likely to set off a fire.”

A comprehensive review of all U.S. installations will be conducted to assess the potential impact that climate change could have on the thousands of buildings, bases and other sites owned by the department.

In addition, the report lays out how the department will use a wide range of practices -- including reducing energy demand -- that, along with efforts by partner nations, are intended to move military operations away from vulnerabilities such as relying on traditional petroleum and electricity networks, resources that increasingly are at risk in some parts of the world.

Waiting Would Require Doing Much Bigger Things

“There are a whole range of things from the distant to the proximate we have to deal with,” Conger said. “If we wait until the long-term problem is proximate, then we have to do much bigger things in order to deal with it.”

The release of the report coincides with the fifth anniversary of President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order on environmental, energy and economic performance, which set aggressive energy, climate and environmental targets for federal agencies for efforts such as using more alternative fuels and renewable resources, conserving water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging teleworking.

Administration officials say these measures already have helped to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 percent since 2008, the equivalent of permanently taking nearly 2 million cars off the road.

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneDoDNews)