The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ratified by the United States and put into effect in 1994, marked the beginning of the U.S. government voluntarily reporting greenhouse gas emissions as well as taking documented steps towards future reductions . In the years to follow, significant data was compiled in order to track the current steady state of emissions. As reported by the Department of Energy in 1997, as was true in prior years, the federal government was the single highest user of energy in the U.S., and the Department of Defense (DoD) consumed 75% of that energy share reported .
Once identified as the dominant user of energy, DoD had to shift focus towards identifying sources of energy consumption and grading the risk in reducing emissions. While the DoD is comprised of a multitude of defense agencies and organizations, this summary will focus on the impact climate change has on the Armed Forces, as a representation of DoD.
The U.S. Armed Forces, comprised of Army, Air Force, and Navy, rely on fossil fuels to utilize mission-essential assets . The top contributors to greenhouse gases are: military vehicles, ships, and aircraft. Additionally, DoD manages millions of acres of land across the Unites States, including billions of square feet of facility and installation space . In a direct response to the call for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the DoD concluded that military readiness would be jeopardized: the manner in which DoD Armed Forces units train and deploy would be halted . Furthermore, concerns arose within the Armed Forces that foreign nations hosting the U.S. military would impose pressure to significantly reduce emissions. Being in a position to influence policy, DoD pushed forward new policy allowing provisions for ships, aircraft, and vehicles that only operate on fossil fuel to be excluded from normal emissions reports, and reported separately, as well as for foreign nation purchases .
In 2010, the DoD formed a working group to discuss approaches and concerns regarding climate change. The group consensus centered around a significant need for Research and Development (R&D) in the form of usable data to analyze and assess further risks on future missions, infrastructure, and general vulnerabilities .
DoD publicly outlined significant concerns to the current operating model, as well as steps to mitigate any decreased ability to operate under full mission readiness. In 2014, DoD released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap to trace specific scientific metrics to missions and potential vulnerabilities . This Roadmap intertwines scientific research and strategic planning and policy, and could potential set the stage for future planning.
In 2014, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel coined climate change as a “threat multiplier” . DoD has also publicly theorized that significant regional instability is a real danger as sea levels continue to rise. As diseases spread and more frequent, food shortages increase, severe storms impact partner nations, the Armed Forces are called upon to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response . Not only will this require a change in operational planning to ensure units are capable and available, but instability also jeopardizes security for both the region impacted as well as military and civilian relief-assistance personnel.
While skeptics view some of the actions taken by the military as “at odds with environmental protection” , DoD has also realized that actions taken now to reasonably reduce emissions at the installation level will contribute to cost savings and greater efficiencies in the future . The question is now, will this message penetrate from the highest headquarters down to the individual installations, and will this continue to be an agenda, which requires human capital to enforce, given the myriad of routine operational tasking facing the DoD, specifically the Armed Forces. (726 words)
 Roy K. Salomon, “Global Climate Change and U.S. Military Readiness,” Federal Facilities Environmental Journal, Summer 1999, p.135.
2 Ibid., p.136.
3 Sarah E. Light, “The Military-Environmental Complex,” Boston College Law Review, Vol 55: p. 880.
4 Ibid., p. 137.
5 Ibid., p. 139.
6 The Department of Defense and Climate Control: Facilitating the Dialogue,” Office of Naval Research, January 2012.
7 “Defense Department Unveils Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap,” Inside the Pentagon, October 16, 2014.
8 “Military Must Be Ready for Climate Change Challenges: Hagel,” RTT News, October 13, 2014.
9 Light, p. 886.
10 Inside the Pentagon, October 16, 2014.