Climate Security in the 2021 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act

By John Conger

Both the U.S. House and Senate recently passed their versions of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, but it’s quite possible there will be a delay before a conference bill is completed.  Rather than wait for the final version, this blog will review the climate change and resilience provisions in each version. 

Each of these bills is built upon a legislative foundation that’s been developed over the last three years, that involved key steps such as a declaration that climate change poses a direct threat to the national security of the United States, a requirement that the Department of Defense (DoD) prioritize its vulnerabilities and send to Congress a list of its most vulnerable installations, expansion of existing authorities to incorporate climate considerations, improvements to building codes, and a requirement for DoD to conduct resilience planning at each of its installations (plans that will be for identifying next steps for shoring up the unique vulnerabilities at each location). A summary of these provisions can be found here.

In this year’s bills, pending conference, the House and the Senate have continued to support the Department’s work on climate resilience.  Some key provisions include:

  • Requirement to update the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (very similar to the plan called for in the Climate Security Plan for America). Congress specifically indicates that this update shall include a strategy and implementation plan of the DoD to address the current and foreseeable impacts of climate change on DoD missions, geopolitical/strategic environment, infrastructure (inside and outside the U.S.), and civilian dependencies such as supply chains and strategic transportation nodes.  This document, once completed, is likely to guide the next several years of DoD climate activities. (House Sec 322)
  • Establishment of a National Academies Climate Security Roundtable, to create a mechanism for climate science stakeholders to provide information to the Climate Security Advisory Council which was established within the Intelligence Community in last year’s bill. Recall that the CSAC was inspired by the Climate Security Crisis Watch Center the Center for Climate and Security called for in the CSPA.  (House Sec 1613)
  • Improving water management and security on military installations (House Sec 2826).
  • Direction to the US Coast Guard to assess its vulnerabilities and to, among other requirements, identify the ten sites most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This requirement echoes the requirement passed for DoD in the Fiscal Year 2018 NDAA. (House Sec 9411)
  • Authorization for the DoD to fund projects that improve military installation resilience even when they are outside the borders of the installation or on land the DoD does not control. (Senate Sec 314)
  • Requirement for an assessment of the impact of permafrost thaw on DoD assets and operations. (Senate Sec 351)
  • An assessment building upon DoD’s 2018 vulnerability report that would focus exclusively on extreme weather vulnerability of installations and combatant commander requirements. (Senate Sec 354)
  • Providing additional planning and design funds ($50 million) to support military installation resilience projects. (Senate military construction tables)

While it is not certain which, if any, of these provisions will make it into the final bill, they each reflect a continuation of the legislative and DoD progress on climate change and security we’ve seen across both Republican and Democratic administrations for the past two decades.

John Conger is the Director of the Center for Climate and Security, and former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) at the U.S. Department of Defense 


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