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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks' Remarks at Worldwide Logistics Symposium 2022: "Global Security Implications of Climate Change"

Climate change is altering our planet right now – from contributing to severe weather events to sparking wildfires and driving drought conditions.  It creates conditions that are challenging nation states and proving catastrophic for communities around the world.

The truth is, that across the globe, virtually every person and organization is impacted by climate change – and that includes the Department of Defense.

Our Department of Defense Climate Risk Analysis makes clear that climate change is reshaping the geostrategic, operational, and tactical environments with significant implications for U.S. national security and defense. We are rapidly learning that it will increasingly set the context for our operations – with implications for readiness, resourcing, and mission demand.

As an example, here at home, our fire season has gotten progressively worse.  The Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Dan Hokanson, has said that what used to be a fire season has become a fire year.  From fiscal year 2016 to 2021, the number of personnel days that the National Guard has dedicated to firefighting has increased from 14,000 to more than 176,000.

Last year, I traveled to Florida and visited Naval Air Station Pensacola, which was hit by Hurricane Sally.  I saw first-hand the way that climate – induced extreme weather is impacting defense capabilities.  During my visit, I had the chance to speak with commanders at neighboring bases as well.  I spoke with them about the challenges climate change poses to their installations and their ability carry out critical missions.

In the Arctic, the changing climate affects ice melt, and is opening the region to new geopolitical competition.

And because of sea-level rise, low elevation areas like the Marshall Islands –home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site – are at risk of disappearing altogether. 

The science is clear – as a nation and as a Department, we must do our part to mitigate climate change.  As the President announced in November of last year, this means reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Right now, 75% of total federal greenhouse gas emissions come from DoD.  So doing our part to make significant changes to our energy use and increase our investments in energy technology will create substantial effects for the whole U.S. government.

We must be able to simultaneously mitigate against climate change while ensuring our security.  China’s military is on pace to become a peer competitor to the United States.  Russia’s aggression threatens Europe’s stability today.  We also face advanced and persistent threats from Iran, North Korea, and non-state actors.

While there is sometimes an inclination to see our climate objectives as somehow detracting from our warfighting objectives, in reality the two are well aligned. 

There is no better example of this alignment than logistics.

From Sun Tzu and Alexander the Great to General Bradley and General Eisenhower – some of the greatest military thinkers and strategists throughout history have remarked on the importance of logistics. 

And we know that logistics remains as important today as at any point in history.   

This will be especially true in contested environments.  That is why our Joint Warfighting Concept focuses on contested logistics as one of its four functional concepts.

Energy underpins our warfighting capabilities and in contested environments, getting critical supplies – such as fuel – to our installations and platforms will be increasingly challenging.  

Reducing energy demand in the forward-deployed force is critical to our ability to sustain distributed operations.

As an example, many islands in the Indo-Pacific have virtually no local fossil fuel resources—Guam, Hawaii, and Kwajalein, for instance.  Nearly all of their energy needs – including those of U.S. military installations that are located on those islands – are met by imported petroleum. 

Getting fuel to these locations is often difficult enough.  But in a contested battlespace, it will be incredibly challenging. 

Reducing our energy demand will be so important.  After all, you can’t sink efficiency. Distributed resources like solar panels and batteries can also reduce fuel demand and mitigate logistics challenges.

Moving aggressively to reduce energy demand is critical to the mission and good for the climate.  That mission alignment is in fact, at the heart of our climate objectives.

There is tremendous activity underway across the Department to advance those objectives today. 

In our forthcoming DoD strategy and planning documents, such as the National Defense Strategy, climate change is setting the context for operations – our own and those of our competitors.  The nations and alliances that are more resilient to the impacts of climate will have an advantage.

And, in the next several weeks, I’ll be issuing a Department-wide memorandum that will emphasize energy supportability and demand reduction.  These will be priority attributes in any upgrades to current programs and the development of all new capabilities.

There’s too much at stake for the planet and our mission for us to stand pat while the world changes around us.  We at DoD intend to act.