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Pentagon: Climate change threatens military installations

Flooding, drought and wildfires driven by climate change pose threats to two-thirds of the U.S. military's installations, the Defense Department said in a new report required by Congress.

The authors of the report, which the Pentagon delivered to Congress on Thursday, note that it probably underestimates the full extent of risk to military facilities because it only looks at likely impacts over the next two decades. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050 to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would lock in many of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

“It is relevant to point out that ‘future’ in this analysis means only 20 years in the future,” the report said. “Projected changes will likely be more pronounced at the mid-century mark; vulnerability analyses to mid- and late-century would likely reveal an uptick in vulnerabilities (if adaptation strategies are not implemented.)”

President Donald Trump has regularly dismissed climate science, including reports like the the National Climate Assessment published in November by federal scientists that showed climate change was hitting all regions of the United States.

The Pentagon report focused on 79 installations across the armed services. It said 53 installations currently experience recurrent flooding, 43 face drought, 36 are exposed to wildfires, six are undergoing desertification and one is dealing with thawing permafrost.

More installations will feel those climate stressors in the future, with 60 sites projected to see recurrent flooding, 48 confronted hurt by drought and 43 threatened at risk of wildfires.

Democrats were disappointed that the report lacked specifics they said were required by law, such as cost estimates to upgrade installations to ensure they can withstand the effects of climate change. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called it "inadequate" and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who sponsored the amendment to the Defense authorization bill requiring the report, labeled it "cursory" and questioned why only U.S. military installations were considered.

"While this climate report acknowledges that nearly all the military installations it studied are vulnerable to major climate change impacts, and provides numerous installation-level examples of those impacts, it fails to even minimally discuss a mitigation plan to address the vulnerabilities," Smith said in a statement.

The report builds on a number of other Pentagon reports that have called climate change a “threat multiplier” that can alter DOD priorities, such as mass migration and humanitarian aid missions fueled by extreme weather events.

The fingerprints of climate change can disrupt everyday military operations, the report said.

“Due to routine training and testing activities that are significant ignition sources, wildfires are a constant concern on many military installations,” the report said. “As a result, the DoD spends considerable resources on claims, asset loss, and suppression activities due to wildfire.”

Installations such as Norfolk Naval Base face persistent vulnerabilities like sea-level rise. Others have sustained damage from extreme events made more intense by climate change, such as Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Fla., which was pummeled last year by Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to ever hit the panhandle.

The Pentagon said it needs "to better understand rates of coastal erosion, natural and built flood protection infrastructure, and inland and littoral flood planning and mitigation." And it is honing its research to improve projections for sea-level rise, storm surge and inland flooding as well as exploring better materials and designs for buildings and infrastructure.

DOD has taken measures to bolster bases against climate change, the report said, including by integrating climate change scenarios into planning and updating design standards. It is also conducting research on drought risk to installations in the Southwest, investigating how thawing permafrost will affect Arctic operations and has developed a fire science strategy in response to wildfire vulnerabilities.

The military also is partnering with foreign nations to blunt the effects of climate change. Those partnerships include ensuring water security in the Chad Basin and Tanzania; a water workshop in the Czech Republic; and an Arctic mission analysis with Scandinavian nations.

Climate change has contributed to “country instability issues,” where rainy season flooding and desertification in Africa as well as flooding in the Pacific region have

stressed military missions, it said.

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