Hurricane Florence ravaged Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in September, leaving behind an estimated $3.6 billion worth of wreckage. But there’s no mention of that in a new Pentagon report detailing the impact of climate change on the defense department.
The “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense” does not mention Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps, Hurricane Florence or even the threats posed by extreme weather events – more destructive storms, more intense rainfall – that scientists say are more likely given climate change and global warming.
Those omissions are just one reason lawmakers greeted the Congressionally mandated report with eviscerating criticism on Friday. The report didn’t meet the legal requirement to list the 10 most vulnerable military installations for each service, they said. And despite the global impact of climate change, it didn’t list a single US military installation outside the United States.
Lawmakers, pointing to President Donald Trump’s skepticism about climate change and his administration’s steady rollback of measures meant to mitigate the impacts of global warming, were scathing.
The report is “an inadequate, incomplete, partisan document,” said Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee.
“We know that climate change is real and impacts the way our Armed Forces carry out their missions in different parts of the globe,” Reed said in a statement. “Former Secretary (James) Mattis recognized and affirmed this fact.”
The Pentagon report follows a January study by the Government Accountability Office that found that under the Trump administration, the State Department removed guidance to overseas missions on how to include climate change risks in their country strategies, particularly in relation to migration.
The Pentagon report notes that the department “is incorporating climate resilience as a cross-cutting consideration for our planning and decision-making process, and not as a separate program or specific set of actions.”
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said, “the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to DOD missions, operational plans and installations.”
But Reed noted that despite legal requirements, the Pentagon report simply outlined an alphabetical list of 79 military installations. “The report reads like an introductory primer and carries about as much value as a phonebook,” he said.
And Rep. Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was “deeply disappointed.” Langevin noted that the “the report comes after a year where the Department suffered nearly $10 billion in damage in just two extreme events at Tyndall Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune—two installations that were not even evaluated.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said the “report highlights the climate vulnerabilities of the top 79 mission assurance priority installations. By using this alternative approach, we are able to highlight where there are operational risks.”
The Pentagon did not answer multiple questions from CNN, including: why it failed to meet Congress’ request to list the 10 most vulnerable installations, why it mentioned no military installations outside the US or why the climate factors it considered did not include extreme weather, and why Camp Lejeune isn’t listed among the 79 installations.
‘A national security issue’
Babb also declined to respond to Reed’s criticism.
The report acknowledges that “the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”
It looks at the impact of recurrent flooding, noting that Joint Base Langley in Virginia has seen a 14-inch sea level rise since 1930. It briefly notes military installations affected drought, particularly in the southwest, and by desertification. The report touches on wildfires that came close to Space Launch complexes and a southern California base, as well as thawing permafrost in Alaska.
Although no overseas military installations were listed, the report noted the widely recognized impact climate change has on fragile regions, particularly in Africa and Asia, and the instability and conflict it can create. It lists a few projects the defense department has undertaken with partner countries and notes the need to consider how drought and desertification impact overseas bases and missions.
The report also raised, very briefly, the logistical challenge weather conditions can create for intelligence collection, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as recovery and casualty evacuation.
And it flagged the way climate change will create new security challenges in the Arctic, where melting ice means greater access but also greater international competition for the waterways.