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Event Recap: National US Security Risks in the Face of Sea Level Rise

Event Recap: National US Security Risks in the Face of Sea Level Rise

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On June 29th the American Security Project and Florida International University co-hosted a discussion with Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, Richard Miller, and ASP’s David Haines on national security threats caused by rising sea-levels and how the United States can prepare military bases for increasing climate security threats. Sea-level rise and more extreme weather events are causing risks to military installations, readiness, operations, and strategy. The Department of Defense (DoD) manages more than 1,700 military installations that may be affected by sea-level rise.

Climate Change and National Security

“Our national security forces have to maintain their capability and climate change causes several issues for military forces,” said David Haines, Senior Fellow for Climate Security at the American Security Project. For example, Haines said, wildfires threaten military bases in the West, melting permafrost damages military buildings and reduces capacity in Alaska, and increasingly frequent hurricanes and hotter temperatures disrupt bases and base-access in Florida. Climate change is also a threat multiplier requiring additional contingency planning and response as issues become more severe and frequent, necessitating more resources like time, money and humanitarian aid. Furthermore, Haines noted, as countries shift to prioritizing climate action, opportunities arise for American partnerships and influence on renewable standards and infrastructure, which require technology and international financing. At the federal level, the government initiatives for flood mitigation and resilient infrastructure, like those funded by FEMA and the DoD, must keep local priorities in mind, emphasized Haines.

Sea-level Rise and Florida Bases

Richard Miller, Executive Director of the South Florida Defense Alliance, spoke about Florida’s importance as a key region of national security infrastructure threatened by rising sea-level, serving as the home of three major unified combatant commands (the Middle East, Latin and South America, and the Special Forces). The Gulf Coast is home to miles of training and testing capabilities that far exceed any capacity anywhere else in the United States, he elaborated. Florida’s ten Regional Planning Councils support the military through their zoning and planning activities. In addition to connecting defense interests with the regional planning councils, climate compacts are forming across the state to help work on resilience challenges, said Miller. “In military terms, sea-level rise is nature’s form of encroachment,” Miller explained. This requires resiliency and adaption to address.

Partnering for Success

Dr. Jayantha T Obeysekera, Director of the Sea-Level Solutions Center, Florida International University spoke about his experience evaluating the vulnerability of a military installations. It is not only the buildings that are considered, but all aspects above and below ground including the utility and groundwater systems and how they could be affected by increasing sea-level rise and storm surge flooding, said Dr. Obeysekera, “DoD installations are going to be affected at different rates so we want to understand the [sea-level rise] projections at different locations” he elaborated. “Florida is little more than the global average.” Dr. Obeysekera served on a committee of the Southeast Florida Climate Compact to help develop a Unified Sea-Level Rise Projection, a critical tool to ensure state and local officials are using the most accurate projection for their policy planning. Southeast Florida’s Climate Compact also developed a regional climate action plan with 100+ action items, providing input to local and regional governments on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate resiliency. Dr. Obeysekera said this type of partnering “is recognized as a model for what should be duplicated in the country.”

The panelists concluded the session by answering questions from the audience. During the Q&A, the panelists agreed that more collaboration between bases and local communities through climate compacts and other initiatives will be key to preparing for rising sea-levels and other climate threats. Federal, military, state and local partners need to share resources and build robust relations to develop comprehensive solutions and broader community strategies.

Watch the full recording here:

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