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Climate Change and Energy in Defense Doctrine: The QDR and UK Defence Green Paper

Security experts discuss ways to integrate climate change and energy in current and future planning, strategies, and operations.

Date & Time

Mar. 11, 2010
2:00pm – 4:00pm

Climate Change and Energy in Defense Doctrine: The QDR and UK Defence Green Paper

"The Department of Defense is not the U.S. government lead for climate change, but we certainly can show leadership in this area," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Amanda Dory recently told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "That's true of energy as well."

In the panel discussion "Climate Change and Energy in Defense Doctrine: The QDR and UK Defence Green Paper," Dory was joined by Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti RN, the climate and energy security envoy for the U.K. Ministry of Defence and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and DoD energy and environmental analysts Commander Esther J. McClure USN and Lt. Colonel Paul Schimpf USMC for a dialogue on climate change and energy, and their implications for U.K. and U.S. security analyses.

National Security and Climate Change

"We see climate change as a condition that has second-order effects that can contribute to conflict and instability," Dory said. Quoting the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), she called climate change an "instability accelerant"—it does not spark conflict itself, but climate-related resource scarcity, shifts in agricultural productivity, and migration pressures can.

The threat of conflict is particularly strong in weak countries, where severe climate impacts could overwhelm limited state capacities. Morisetti, speaking about the UK Defence Green Paper and the country's most recent Global Strategic Trends report, noted that many at-risk states already lie in current hotspots and along vital trade routes.

The panelists also raised concerns over the potential impacts of:

  • Sea-level rise and extreme weather events on coastal infrastructure, including military and economic assets;
  • Receding Arctic sea ice on trade, resource extraction, and sovereignty claims;
  • Melting permafrost on energy infrastructure;
  • New patterns of disease; and
  • More intense, and perhaps more frequent, extreme weather events and demands for humanitarian and disaster relief missions.

    National Security and Energy

    As nations advance their efforts to mitigate climate change, defense forces will have to reduce emissions and pay more for traditional fuels, said Morisetti. In a carbon-constrained world, there will be competition for traditional fuels.

    Beyond climate change, Dory said energy has the potential to be either an "asymmetric vulnerability" or a "force multiplier." Energy-guzzling platforms are costly to operate, difficult to transport, and have long supply lines. As Amory Lovins said in his presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center last fall, cutting down the number of costly and vulnerable fuel convoys, freeing troops for alternative missions, and procuring equipment with larger operational ranges can greatly enhance strategic courses of action.

    On the home front, the integration of cyber-control systems and renewable energy supplies into the U.S. power grid is creating new vulnerabilities for military bases and headquarters in the United States. "We're seeing variable renewable energy resources integrated into a brittle grid at the same time as we see people moving toward variable demand," McClure said. "As a former chief engineer, I tell you that that equation doesn't work out real well for very long." Figuring out how to make energy supplies for domestic facilities more robust—either by improving the national energy grid, developing efficient off-grid generation capabilities at bases, or a combination of both—is a major concern identified in the QDR.

    Looking Forward

    Each panelist detailed ways to integrate climate change and energy in current and future planning, strategies, and operations:

    Military-to-Military Cooperation: Cooperation around climate change and energy issues can build communication channels while helping both developed and developing country militaries learn to adapt. In many developing countries the military is "the only [organization] that [has] the infrastructure to do the necessary disaster planning and response," said Schimpf. U.S. military experiences abroad can help inform both the DoD and civilians about best practices at home. Such initiatives to advance military-to-military environmental cooperation will build on previous DoD efforts over at least the past 20 years.

    Force Planning & Acquisitions: The planning and acquisition process should incorporate energy performance, efficiency, and effectiveness, said Dory. In addition, Morisetti said, fuel forecasts must be properly priced. For example, under standard pricing methods, fossil fuels consume 2.5 percent of the UK military budget, but the figure jumps to 15 percent when using the fully burdened cost of fuel. Reducing the vulnerabilities of energy supply will be a key task of the Director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs, a new position mandated by Congress but yet to be confirmed.

    Inter-agency Cooperation: "Climate change doesn't recognize departmental boundaries, the same way it doesn't recognize international boundaries," Morisetti said. The DoD has been cooperating on climate change and energy issues with partners at the Department of State, Department of Energy, and elsewhere. Stovepiping within departments is also a problem. During their extensive consultations, the QDR team found that "there are a huge amount of practitioners within the DoD who are working on climate change issues," said Schmipf. "However, it seems that everybody is in their own little foxhole, so to speak; there's not a whole lot of coordination."

    R&D: The security community can be a key contributor to energy research and development, either directly developing technologies itself, funding research elsewhere, or acting as a testing ground/early adopter for new products, said Schimpf.

    Installation Vulnerability Assessments: Initial surveys of DoD installations were performed in the lead-up to the QDR, said McClure. More detailed efforts will identify which installations are vulnerable to what types of climate change, and what are the best ways to adapt.

    Drafted by Dan Asin and edited by Meaghan Parker.


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Environmental Change and Security Program

The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more

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