WASHINGTON — The Pentagon released a report Monday asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster response as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.
The report lays out a road map for how the military will adapt to rising sea levels, more violent storms and widespread droughts. The Defense Department will begin by integrating plans for climate change risks across all of its operations, from war games and strategic defense planning situations to a rethinking of the movement of supplies.
While foreign policy experts have for years warned that climate change could present a future risk to national security, the Pentagon’s characterization of climate change as a threat demanding immediate action represents a significant shift for the military.
In the past, the Pentagon’s response to climate change has focused chiefly on preparing military installations to adapt to its effects, as in protecting coastal naval bases from rising sea levels. But the new report calls on the military to incorporate climate change into broader strategic thinking about high-risk regions — for example, the ways in which drought and food shortages might set off political unrest in the Middle East and Africa.
“One of the differences from previous documents is that they’re really looking at the immediate threat,” said Marcus King, an expert on climate change and international affairs at George Washington University. “The other is that they’re not just looking at installations — they’re looking at a different level, the strategic impact across regions.”
If and when the Pentagon does request funding from Congress for spending on climate change initiatives, it will clash directly with congressional Republicans, many of whom question the established scientific evidence that human activities are causing climate change.
“ISIS is still gaining ground and causing havoc in Syria and Iraq, with foreign fighters from over 80 countries coming and going into the fight and then returning to their home country,” said Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, of the Pentagon report. “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the president and his administration would focus on climate change when there are other, legitimate threats in the world.”