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Hagel to Address ‘Threat Multiplier’ of Climate Change

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will outline the effects of climate change on the world’s security environment and will unveil the Defense Department’s plan to meet that challenge in a speech this afternoon at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas in Arequipa, Peru.

In a statement, Hagel noted that thinking ahead and planning for a wide range of contingencies is the Defense Department’s responsibility in providing security for the nation, and that climate change is a trend that will affect national security.

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” he said. “They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

Potential to exacerbate many challenges

The U.S. defense strategy refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” the secretary said, because it has the potential to exacerbate many challenges, including infectious disease and terrorism. “We are already beginning to see some of these impacts,” he added.

A changing climate will have real impacts on the military and the way it executes its missions, Hagel said, noting that the military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities and to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters.

“Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities,” he said. “Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions.”

Weather always has affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way the military executes operations may be altered or constrained, the secretary said.

Uncertainty is no excuse for delaying action

“While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action,” Hagel said. “Every day, our military deals with global uncertainty. Our planners know that, as military strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, ‘all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight.’”

It is in this context, he said, that he is releasing DoD’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap today.

“Climate change is a long-term trend, but with wise planning and risk mitigation now, we can reduce adverse impacts downrange,” the secretary said. “Our first step in planning for these challenges is to identify the effects of climate change on the department with tangible and specific metrics, using the best available science.”

A baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of the military’s more than 7,000 bases, installations and other facilities is nearly complete, Hagel said. “In places like the Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S military sites in the world, we see recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years,” he added.

Integrating climate change considerations to manage risks

Drawing on these assessments, officials are integrating climate change considerations into plans, operations and training across the Defense Department to enable managing associated risks, Hagel said.

“We are considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defense planning scenarios, and are working with our combatant commands to address impacts in their areas of responsibility,” he said. “At home, we are studying the implications of increased demand for our National Guard in the aftermath of extreme weather events. We are also assessing impacts on our global operations -- for instance, how climate change may factor into our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.”

Last year, Hagel noted, he released the Defense Department’s Arctic Strategy, which addresses the potential security implications of increased human activity in the Arctic, a consequence of rapidly melting sea ice.

Collaborating with relevant partners

“We are also collaborating with relevant partners on climate change challenges,” he added. “Domestically, this means working across our federal and local agencies and institutions to develop a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to a challenge that reaches across traditional portfolios and jurisdictions. Within the U.S. government, DoD stands ready to support other agencies that will take the lead in preparing for these challenges, such as the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

The United States also must work with other nations to share tools for assessing and managing climate change impacts and to help build their capacity to respond, Hagel said.

“Climate change is a global problem. Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone,” he added. “Today I am meeting in Peru with Western Hemisphere defense ministers to discuss how we can work together to build joint capabilities to deal with these emerging threats.

“Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning,” he continued. “Our armed forces must prepare for a future with a wide spectrum of possible threats, weighing risks and probabilities to ensure that we will continue to keep our country secure. By taking a proactive, flexible approach to assessment, analysis and adaptation, the Defense Department will keep pace with a changing climate, minimize its impacts on our missions, and continue to protect our national security.”

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