The Department of Defense (DoD) and the service branches have made notable strides in integrating climate considerations into its plans and operations, a strategic decision that continues to enhance resilience and energy security. While several of the DoD’s priority climate and energy areas are continuous actions, the seeds for enhancing readiness, strengthening installation infrastructure, and maintaining environmental stewardship have been in the works for many years. But to adequately prepare for climate change, much more investment is needed.
The defense and security enterprise has understood the nexus of climate, energy, and security, both for installations and operations for decades. More recently, Executive Order 13834, Efficient Federal Operations, provided additional guidance for agencies throughout the U.S. government to increase efficiency, and the DoD was no exception. The defense enterprise had long wrestled with the “energy trilemma”—a concern for energy security, cost, and environmental protection—so the renewed federal attention to these issues simply continued to build on the climate and energy resilience trends. The Air Force published its Energy Flight Plan, the Army released its Installation Energy and Water Resilience Policy, and the Navy published an Installation Energy Resilience Strategy, as well as their respective climate plans. To date, the largest climate investment made by DoD targets clean energy projects that serve dual climate and energy purposes: energy storage, electric vehicles (EVs), and power distribution systems across military facilities. Similarly, the Army has 28 installation microgrids in operation, with nine more under construction, and plans to deploy them across all Army bases by 2035.
These actions have important financial and environmental advantages, but the benefits don’t stop there. Autonomous and electric vehicles could save lives by reducing reliance on fuel transports, lowering heat signatures, and increasing operational capabilities, all while reducing DoD’s carbon footprint. Additionally, DoD’s purchasing power creates markets for innovative technology, such as space-based solar power beaming technology, that could distribute energy globally for disaster response and militarized zones. As such, when climate and energy investments are made, they serve a multipronged purpose.
This is why it is critical, then, that more robust funding for climate and energy investments continue to grow. Climate and energy challenges are already presenting complex, compounding issues that are outpacing the current available funding—putting our capabilities and personnel at risk. Wildfires continue to threaten the ability to train and exercise due to poor air quality, and desertification is an acute issue for at least 10 DoD installations, which is increasing flood risk and affecting the water supply of bases. Furthermore, sea-level rise continues to increase the likelihood of flooding and damage to infrastructure, most famously at Naval Station Norfolk, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and Offutt Air Force Base. Furthermore, permafrost thaw has initiated an entirely new set of challenges to the Alaska radar station and the Arctic.
The National Defense Authorization Act FY23 earmarked $3.1 billion for climate investments, mostly focusing on installation resilience ($2 billion) and the deployment of new science and technology. But protecting military infrastructure requires mechanisms such as the DOD Climate Assessment Tool that collect and anticipate challenges, as well as additional investments in installation resilience and adaptation. The department has targeted $553.6 million to prepare installations for extreme weather events, mitigate coastal erosion, and implement innovative nature-based solutions that enhance resilience. But DoD remains woefully behind on even routine facility maintenance—to the tune of more than $137 billion—a backlog that is “paralyzingly large” according to Brendan Owens, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment.
As our world is reshaped by climate change, so too are America’s security considerations. In order to build the enduring advantages required to achieve mission success, DoD must have sustained climate and energy investments that foster the readiness and resilience required in this new era.