For the fourth time since 2008 the Defense Department finds that climate change will exacerbate tensions and conflict.
In June 2008, the Department of Defense under then President George W. Bush published its 2008 National Defense Strategy. In this document was a single mention of climate change as one of trends and risks that could “pose a new range of challenges for states and societies” that “will affect existing security concerns such as international terrorism and weapons proliferation.”
Since then, the Department of Defense (DoD) has discussed climate change in major strategy documents three additional times. The latest, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, was published today (March 4). In the executive summary to the Review, the DoD writes that
The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities.
In addition, the 2014 Review says that sea level rise, increasing global temperatures, and increased incidents of severe weather are combining in ways that may make fresh water more scarce, increase food costs, damage infrastructure and residences, and increase resource competition. All combined, the DoD expects that these pressures will “aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”
The Review also briefly mentions that the DoD is engaged in several “comprehensive” reviews of the impacts of climate change on preparedness and DoD installations, but does not go into detail. Given that the introduction to the Review explicitly says that the document is focused on ensuring national security while facing significant financial pressures, these few paragraphs are probably as good as could be expected from the Review.
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review was more thorough, devoting an entire section (starting on p107) to the document to the impacts of climate change on both national security and the DoD itself. However, both the 2014 and 2010 Reviews are consistent with each other and with their projections for the impacts of climate change. Specifically, they expect climate change to exacerbate existing tensions, trigger resource conflicts, and put DoD facilities and preparedness at risk.