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August 18, 2021

Climate-Informed Decision-Making at the DoD

Federal News Network recently released an article regarding DoD’s mandated plan to consider climate change in upcoming decision-making. This is especially timely and relevant now that “humans have pushed the climate into ‘unprecedented’ territory, according to a recent United Nations report.

The plans are due by September 1, and then it will likely take some time to enact them. However, DoD must provide annual updates through the National Security Council on progress in incorporating the security implications of climate change to their documents and processes starting in January 2022.

This is not the first time that climate change has been talked about with regards to its effects on potential military bases. According to a 2018 study, more than 1,000 military bases were vulnerable to drought, high winds, flooding and extreme temperatures, which are all expected to become greater risks as climate change continues.

There will be 5 lines of effort included in the plan, the first of which is that progress should be made towards having climate considerations as an integral part of DoD’s resource allocations and operational decision-making process.

Creating such a plan to address climate change in decision-making assumes a framework and decision-making process around how funds are allocated. Organizations within the DoD will have to go back to the drawing board with their framework to decide and weight the new climate-based criteria.

Robust decision-making frameworks must deal with both qualitative and quantitative data. They must be subjective and data-driven. If there is no framework to help gain visibility into the potential trade-offs, then organizations are left shooting in the dark.

The conversation is not only about climate change, but about enterprise risk management principles. You don’t assume some will happen and some wont. However, there are several considerations that will likely be made as plans and policies are made, then implemented.

The first thing to consider is how much does an organization want to make climate change a factor in its decision-making? There’s likely both offensive and defensive considerations to risk, which must all be identified prior to any subsequent steps towards risk reduction. Risks can include adversarial risks, operational risks, risks to the safety of those on the base and more.

Once specific climate change related risks are identified there are three things organizations should evaluate:

  1. Impact – What would be the impact if the oceans rise 10 ft?
  2. Likelihood – What is the likelihood of this happening?
  3. Velocity – How fast is this happening?

Once the impact, likelihood, and velocity have been determined for each climate-based change, it’s important to look at how this could potentially affect operations and see what mitigations can be put into place. These risks also must be prioritized based on highest impact, greatest likelihood, and fastest velocity.

While the command level will likely be responsible for planning and programming these changes, it will be up to the lower levels to figure out implementation and funding, which will look very different across the services and other parts of the DoD, depending not just upon how their office functions, but what climate-based factors are most likely to affect them.

This is also not the first time that environmental considerations have had an impact on how risk is assessed at DoD. A few years ago, there was a suit due to the Navy’s actions harming sea life, which resulted in a directive that they had to consider their impact on marine life in their decision-making.

These new changes are related more holistically to climate change, and enterprise-wide across DoD, which will make implementation more complicated. At the beginning of the process, there may be concerns that adding in climate-change considerations could add to an already never-ending list of UFRs. However, as relevancy of different aspects of climate change are applied to different organizations, branches, and wings, they would likely see that not all aspects of climate change can be applied to all commands. For example, NAVSEA would most definitely have an impact on sea life, but NAVAIR may not have any. Whether a requirement is funded depends on the direct correlation between the assessed risk and the organization’s functions.

Finally, when we’re considering the costs of addressing all of the potential climate risks, rather than being reactive to the changes that are being foreseen, it could save money long term across the board to address climate change at a higher level. If climate change can be slowed down through broader actions, such as rejoining Paris Climate Accords, then DoD could save money on mitigation efforts down the line.

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