[This post has been updated to reflect that both houses of Congress and the Trump Administration now support action by the military to plan for climate change]
Climate change is a threat to national security. The military and national security community has been preparing for the effects of climate change for over a decade. However, for several years, there has been notable push-back from Congress; as recently as 2016, the House of Representatives had voted along purely partisan lines to support an amendment prohibiting any action by the Department of Defense on climate change.
In a remarkable turnaround, the Republican-led Congress has now begun to ask for the military to plan for the effects of climate change, and President Trump has signed legislation requiring that they do so. Below, is a of list legislation considered in 2017, by their committee of jurisdiction.
House Armed Services Committee
In the House version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 2810), the committee accepted an amendment sponsored by Congressman Langevin (RI) that stated that it was the sense of Congress that climate change “is a direct threat to the national security of the United States” and that military installations “must be able to effectively prepare to mitigate climate damage.”
The Amendment requires a report to Congress on vulnerabilities to climate damage in military infrastructure and how climate change is affecting missions like humanitarian assistance and disaster response. The report would detail how much addressing climate change is expected to cost the Department.
The amendment was accepted by voice vote in committee.
Full House of Representatives
When the full House considered the NDAA on July 13, Representative Perry offered an amendment that would strip the bill of any language on climate change, including the report. After floor debate that included discussions from Rep. Langevin, Rep. Peters, and GOP Representatives Stefanik and Ros-Lehtinen. The amendment to strip the climate security section failed by a vote of 185-234, with 45 Republicans voting against. This vote on the House floor was an important signal that Congress is ready to support the military’s actions in preparing for the effects of climate change.
House Appropriations Committee
In the report to accompany the 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2998), the House Appropriations committee called on the Department of Defense to plan for the effects of climate change on its bases and its operations.
The report directs the Department of Defense to take into account the impacts of climate change, both “as a driver of instability” and as a threat to the military’s infrastructure. Noting the 2015 report to Congress about the national security implications of climate change, the report asks the Secretary of Defense to report back to Congress (not later than 120 days after enactment of this Act) on the “adaptation strategies developed for vulnerable installations.”
Furthermore, the report includes strong support for the Department of Defense to continue its work planning for the impacts of climate change. In a section titled “Climate and Security for Military Installations” the report states:
The Department of Defense must pay close attention to potential adverse impacts of climate change as a driver of instability. From sea level rise to increased drought and flooding across the country and the world, proper defense planning must include considerations related to climate change impacts. The Committee urges the Secretary of Defense to plan infrastructure and other projects using the best available data and science on climate change to mitigate risks to our armed forces serving domestically and abroad.
The Omnibus Appropriations bill in which this bill was folded into has not yet been signed into law.
Senate Armed Services Committee
In the report to accompany the Senate version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (S.1519), the committee asks that the Secretary of Defense performs a “comprehensive threat assessment” and “implementation master plan” by March 1, 2018. The report looks both at how to address overseas stability issues as well as infrastructure impacts. The committee is worried about how climate change will threaten readiness for the military as a whole. One particularly interesting area is that it asks for the report to asses how “public-private partnerships” could be used to build resiliency.
On November 9, the Conference Committee agreed to the Conference Report of the NDAA, including section 335, a “Report on effects of climate change on Department of Defense.” This is the Langevin Amendment, as passed by the House of Representatives. Both the House and Senate will consider final passage of the bill before it is sent to the President for his signature.
Final Passage and Signature
Both the House and Senate passed the NDAA Conference Report, without amendment, and it was presented to the President on November 30. On December 12, President Trump signed the bill into law. With this action, the President and the Congress have now passed legislation into law stating: “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.”
Overall, when combined together, these developments show that Congress is taking responsibility for leading on the national security impacts of a changing climate. President Trump’s The American Security Project commends Members of Congress, particularly those Republicans who acknowledge the need for action, in their support. These actions should give support to Secretary Mattis and those in the uniformed military working on this issue that Congress will not suddenly force them away from their work.