A new mission: Mainstreaming climate adaptation in the US Department of Defense


Garfin, G., Falk, D., O’Connor, C., Jacobs, K., Sagarin, R., Haverland, A., Haworth, A., Baglee, A. Weiss, J., Overpeck, J., Zuniga-Teran, A. 2021.

Climate Services. Vol. 22.
Climate Services    22    100230    Elsevier / ScienceDirect            

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes growing climate risks across its responsibilities as land manager, operator of hundreds of installations, and in its core mission to protect national security. However, DoD climate risk reduction is complicated by frequent leadership turnover among base commanders, which encourages focus on near-term challenges, and changing US government priorities that downplay climate risk. We used risk-based deliberation, through workshops, with climate scenario-based fire and flood impact modeling to evaluate risk and adaptation opportunities at bases in the southwestern United States. We found that success in working with Defense installations hinges on linking risks of increasing climate-related impacts to DoD’s ability to achieve its mission objectives at installations. Workshop participants offered insights into barriers to adaptation, including access to decision-makers in a hierarchical organization, leadership focus on near-term challenges, insufficient training or capacity to integrate climate information into short and long-term decisions, and rapid turnover in leadership. We also found opportunities for mainstreaming climate risk management into DoD activities, including emphasizing risks to DoD’s mission, opportunities to form symbiotic partnerships with external partners, and the potential for standardized procedures for considering physical climate risks that could be integrated across the DoD to achieve longer-term solutions to climate change challenges.