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SecDef Austin says climate change will be part of US defense strategy and more

Then-Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. Jan. 19, 2021. (EJ Hersom/DOD)
January 27, 2021

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a statement backing Biden’s push to address climate change and said the Pentagon will “take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments.”

In a Pentagon statement provided to American Military News, Austin said:

I fully support the President’s direction today to include climate considerations as an essential element of our national security and to assess the impacts of climate change on our security strategies, operations, and infrastructure.

Since 2010, the Department of Defense has acknowledged that the planet’s changing climate has a dramatic effect on our missions, plans, and installations.  Every year, we see the consequences of increasing incidents of flooding, drought, wildfires, and extreme weather events on our installations at home. Every year, our commanders and their Allies and partners conduct operations that result from instability in societies strained by desertification, the threat of adversary access to homelands through the Arctic, and the demands for humanitarian assistance worldwide.  In 2019 alone, the Department assessed climate-related impacts to 79 installations and in every geographic Combatant Command area of responsibility. 

We know first-hand the risk that climate change poses to national security because it affects the work we do every day.

The Department will immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments, to mitigate this driver of insecurity. As directed by the President, we will include the security implications of climate change in our risk analyses, strategy development, and planning guidance. As a leader in the interagency, the Department of Defense will also support incorporating climate risk analysis into modeling, simulation, wargaming, analysis, and the next National Defense Strategy. And by changing how we approach our own carbon footprint, the Department can also be a platform for positive change, spurring the development of climate-friendly technologies at scale.

There is little about what the Department does to defend the American people that is not affected by climate change.  It is a national security issue, and we must treat it as such.

The melting of Arctic ice is one particular area of concern Austin noted.

Russia in particular has expanded its activities in the Arctic in recent years, including reviving a Soviet-era Arctic weapons research facility and expanding its fleet of icebreaking ships, including a weaponized icebreaker, to patrol the increasingly accessible Arctic region.

Austin’s statement also alluded to the involvement of U.S. troops in efforts to respond to wildfires and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.