climate change

The Pentagon’s Climate Change Strategy Explained In 7 Facts

While public debate continues about the degree to which climate change is occurring, there is little debate in the Pentagon — in fact, the U.S. military has taken the viewpoint of global warming as an “immediate risk” to national security.

Here are seven facts to know about the Pentagon’s approach to climate change.

1. The notion that extreme weather impacts stability isn’t a new one.

In 2006, the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) convened a Military Advisory Board (MAB), which assessed global warming’s impact on national security. The report concluded that climate change was indeed a “threat multiplier” for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, but also a serious threat in America, and a factor of tension even in stable regions.

The DoD’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review concurred that climate change “may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”

2. The Pentagon’s Climate Adaption Roadmap underlines global warming’s potential risk to national — and global — security.

The  global impact of climate change is being taken seriously by the Pentagon, which stressed in its Climate Adaption Roadmap (pdf) that symptoms of global warming are already observable.

The roadmap calls for a proactive defense strategy that integrates climate change preparedness into plans, operations, and training across the DoD.

3. Melting glaciers in the Arctic present naval concerns and may lead to a battle over natural resources.

The White House’s Arctic Strategy (pdf) reflects the effect of warming on polar caps, and the military’s mission to establish a presence and ramp up its defense there accordingly.

As countries attempt to claim the territory beneath melting caps, where oil and gas reserves are plentiful , the U.S. has called the opening of the Arctic “the most immediate national security challenge presented by climate change” due to potential flash points between militaries stalking the region.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”EBAnUQuIPfWhKpr6QnoKjo1oqZK3aT0X”]4. Instability in the Middle East is a pertinent example of climate-fueled unrest.

A record-setting drought from 2006-2011 in Syria is considered a serious contributing factor to its civil war and current instability. The region saw massive crop failure, livestock loss, and millions driven into poverty, with the resulting displacement heightening political and social instability.

With ISIS having seized scarce water sources in Syria more recently, it’s thought that such shortages triggered their rise.

Climate change and lack of vital rainfall in particular also correlates with uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and the Arab Spring in general. Drought and crop failure, which strips populations of livelihoods, could lead to mass migrations and humanitarian crises in the future — something the military is preparing to deal with.

5. Rising sea levels put military infrastructure and coastal cities at risk.

The U.S. military is assessing the vulnerability its bases and facilities, as sea level is expected to rise 12 to 15 inches over the next 20 to 50 years. Already, they’ve updated their construction to better withstand possible climate impact.

The flooding of densely populated coastal areas could also fuel mass migration and other humanitarian crises which would require military intervention.

6. Terrorism and disease spread are also of imminent concern.

As developments in the Middle East have suggested, climate change does not directly cause conflict, but can dramatically exacerbate it. According to the Pentagon, ecological upheavals caused by drought, food scarcity, or lack of water and power can undermine the government — conditions they say foster terrorism.

A warming climate can also increase the spread of infectious diseases, meaning troops in particular will need better health monitoring and protection.

7. Climate refugees could become a military concern.

According to some global military experts,  climate change could foster a food security crisis accompanied by unprecedented migration by climate refugees and environmental migrants.

Should the predictions become reality, the Pentagon’s strategy will likely be key in preparing the military to further its disaster relief role in the future, as climate change — whether it manifests as a hurricane, epidemic, or drought — continues to foster security threats outside the realm of war.


We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?

Photo courtesy of Christine Zenino via Wikimedia Commons.

Jennifer Markert