Event Summary: Understanding the Army, Navy, and Air Force Climate Strategies

By Pauline Baudu

On November 3, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) hosted a public discussion moderated by Hon. John Conger, Director Emeritus of CCS and Senior Advisor at the Council on Strategic Risks, on “Understanding the Army, Navy, and Air Force Climate Strategies.” 

The event featured Hon. Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist at CCS and Chair of the Board of the Council on Strategic Risks; Ed Oshiba, Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force (Energy, Installations and Environment); Paul Farnan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army (Installations, Energy and Environment); Jim Balocki, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy (Energy, Installations and Environment) and Rachel Ross, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Panelists discussed the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force climate plans released earlier this year, an important step towards integrating climate security planning across DoD and adding substance to existing national strategic efforts, as noted by Mr. Conger.

These efforts build on decades-long foundations, as highlighted by Hon. Goodman. “Twenty-five years ago, climate and environmental considerations played at best a minor role in DoD efforts,” she noted, “[Now they]…have moved from being an additional consideration to being a leading character as we better understand climate impacts and our ability to train and equip our forces.” Goodman further pointed to the synergies between the DoD plans as well as the recently-released National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, including on building enduring advantages. Ms. Goodman also underscored the importance of having this conversation on the eve of COP27, where DoD would be sending three representatives to engage with international leaders and civil society.

One key feature shared among the three DoD plans was the primacy of mission, with the goal of allowing U.S. military forces to efficiently operate in a world altered by climate change. As emphasized by Ms. Ross, climate change is impacting DoD’s mission and shaping its relations with its partners. “This is not climate for climate’s sake or energy for energy’s sake: it’s about ensuring our ability to fly, fight and win,” argued Mr. Oshiba, who gave the example of energy efficiency translating to more time on target for airmen and to fewer logistics – and casualties – on the battlefield. By increasing the resilience of installations and the capacity of forces, “We’re reducing emissions and doing our part for the country and the planet, and we’re also making ourselves a better Army by following this,” added Mr. Farnan.

The convergence of climate resilience and mission capability has helped build broad support from top-level military officers and political leaders from both sides of the aisle. “I don’t have to argue with three and four-star generals, […] they’re calling me in, asking when we can schedule exercises for their installations because they want to understand what kind of vulnerabilities they have so they can fix them,” said Mr. Oshiba. As Mr. Balocki stated, “all senior leaders in the Department don’t see it as either readiness or climate. It is both.” As stated by Mr. Farnan, “There is no President from either party that would argue and try to reduce the things that we are accomplishing here.”

Indeed, DoD cannot address the threats of climate change alone. Panelists underscored the importance of partnerships with allies, Congressional stakeholders, industries, local communities, and the scientific community – in particular when it comes to improving technology and engineering solutions. “We have access to some of the best and brightest minds in the academic and corporate world,” stated Mr. Balocki. Making critical infrastructure climate-resilient was also presented as an opportunity for the Army to make a difference in terms of co-benefits for local communities: “We are one and the same: […] the resilience of the community [e.g. to power shortages, flooding and sea-level rise] is extraordinarily important to our ability to get our mission done on the installation.” Zooming out to an international view, Ms. Goodman argued that progress towards these goals would be made in conjunction with partner nations, including through NATO, which also issued a climate security plan last year. 

When asked about next steps and how the military services would be measuring the success of their climate strategies, panelists explained that their objectives would be enforced by the release of implementation plans, which would be periodically updated. “Objectives are written in a way that is both specific and time-based. My goal as we write the implementation plan is to then provide the actions necessary to achieve the key results and then monitor the progress in completing them,” said Mr. Oshiba. “Some of the goals are long-term goals and the technology is not there yet, so our [Army Climate Strategy] Implementation Plan was purposefully written as a five-year plan: it only goes out to 2027. Then […] we will have to rewrite it to incorporate what has already been done […] and how to proceed over the next five years,” explained Mr. Farnan. 

As the security risks of climate change are getting increased attention in the latest U.S. strategic documents, panelists provided a concrete account of their work to move from words to deeds at the operational level.

For related reading, see this article by CCS’s John Conger comparing the Army, Navy, and Air Force climate plans.
The “Army Climate Strategy,” the Navy “Climate Action 2030,” and the “U.S. Department of the Air Force Climate Action Plan” can also be found here


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