Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former board member of the American Security Project, attended the 11th Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas during a six-day, three-country trip to Latin America that began on October 9, 2014. This conference was held in Peru, the Western Hemisphere’s “premiere venue” for senior military leaders to discuss regional defense issues. Rear Admiral John Kirby stated Hagel’s main goal in the conference is
“Addressing the major theme of this year, environmental security. The secretary will discuss the Defense Department’s emerging strategy for adapting to the impacts of climate change.” He continued saying, “He will describe DoD’s efforts to assess and respond to the risks that climate change poses to our military’s installations, operations and training…he will propose cooperation with partner nations to address these risks.”
This was not the first time that Hagel spoke out regarding the DoD’s progressive view of climate change. In 2013, at the Halifax International Security Forum, Hagel outlined
As the hemisphere begins to feel the effects from climate change, it is important for the region’s militaries to begin to focus on the security implications. Hagel’s participation in this conference was essential in starting this dialogue, and pivoting the militaries’ focus towards combating the consequences of climate change. His speech was crucial in convincing regional governments and militaries to realign their thinking towards the real threats that are presented by our changing environment. Hagel outlined his stance by saying
“Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’…because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies – and to produce new challenges in the future.”
He continued by stating the eminent dangers presented from this change and how they will have a disastrous impact in the region. The changes included rising sea levels reclaiming coastal land, strain on water supplies, destruction from hurricanes, and various others.
Hagel assured the conference that the United States is preparing for this change and announced the DoD’s “Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.” When discussing the Roadmap, Hagel said
“This roadmap shows how we are identifying, with tangible and specific metrics, and using the best available science, the effects of climate change on the Department’s missions and responsibilities. We have nearly completed a baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of our military’s more than 7,000 bases, installations, and other facilities.”
The United States is not alone with this assessment as Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, Colombia, and El Salvador have all completed joint assessments on the defense implications of climate change. Hagel concluded his statement by inviting other defense leaders to take part in the global discussion on climate change at the United Nations meeting in Peru in two months.
At American Security Project, The Global Defense Index on Climate Change aims to answer how these different militaries and national security communities have begun to plan for the effects of climate change. While some countries in the region are acutely aware of these security consequences, there are countries that do not share the same sentiment. For example, ASP’s country profile of Brazil outlines how the country is aware of the threats of climate change, but mostly sees this as a problem to be dealt with by traditional environmental measures. For the countries in the region that share this lack of awareness, it is important to engage their defense ministers directly to being the conversation on how to reprioritize climate change and provide a unified front.
While Brazil is an example of a country in the region that unwilling to categorize this problem as a security threat, there are other countries that are well aware of the risks but do not have the capabilities to be properly prepared for climate change. Guyana, lacking strong state institutions and proper funding, is one such country. For countries in the region that are in this vulnerable position, it is essential to develop regional support to aid them in combating the security threats from a changing environment. Thus, unless the regional powers are able to shift the regions attitude toward combating climate change, the more vulnerable countries will be the first to suffer from these changes.