WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. military bases in the Arctic and subarctic are failing to prepare their installations for long-term climate change as needed, though rising temperatures and melting ice are already breaking base lanes and roads, exacerbating the risk of flooding in the north, the Pentagon said Friday.
The report from the Inspector General of the Ministry of Defense provides a rare public statement of the military’s preparedness – or lack of preparedness – for the aggravated weather on a warming Earth.
The U.S. military has long formally recognized climate change as a threat to national security. This is in part due to the impact that increasing floods, forest fires, extreme heat and other natural disasters have and will have on US installations and troops around the world.
Rising hurricanes, floods, storms and forest fires in recent years have caused billions of dollars in damage to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base and other U.S. military installations and interrupted training and other operations.
For years, laws, presidential orders, and Pentagon rules have mandated the military to begin planning and working so that its installations, warships, warships, and troops can carry out their missions despite increasingly challenging conditions as the use of fossil fuels fuels heat the Earth.
While even acknowledging climate change was a career risk for officials in the administration under former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden instructed faster and more comprehensive action against climate change from the Department of Defense and other agencies as one of his first actions in office.
Despite Biden’s emphasis, inspectors who visited the six northernmost military bases in the United States in June and July last year found that no one carried out the necessary assessments and planning to prepare their installations and operations for long-term climate change.
Furthermore, “most of the installation managers at the six installations we visited in the Arctic and subarctic regions were not familiar with requirements for planning resilience to military installations, processes and tools,” the inspector general’s reports said.
Senior officers told the Inspector General’s inspection team that their operations lacked the training and funding to begin the necessary work of hardening their bases. Some saw demands for that kind of long-term planning as putting together a “wish list” that would go up against competing priorities, officers told inspectors.
A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The Inspector General’s report quoted Defense officials as saying that the Biden administration has completed or is working on many of the report’s recommendations to better incorporate climate preparations at bases and across military departments and will increase resources for the bases to enable it.
One of the bases is in Greenland and the other five in Alaska: Thule Air Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Clear Space Force Station, Eielson Air Force Base, Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely.
The Arctic and subarctic are important for US strategic goals, partly due to rising tensions and competition with Russia and China, and partly because sharply rising temperatures are melting sea ice and opening both shipping routes and access to the region’s oil and other resources, increased interest and traffic in the region .
The Department of Defense also sees that “the Arctic is a potential vector for an attack on the US homeland, a region where Russia and China operate more freely, and a strategic corridor for DoD forces between the Indo-Pacific and Europe,” the report notes. .
Inspectors found that the kind of problems associated with worsening climate change are already causing problems at U.S. bases.
At Fort Wainwright in Alaska, increased wildfire risk in 2019 interrupted training for two Pacific Air Force squadrons, so one was only able to perform 59% of the planned training for a period, the report said.
Many of the specific discussions on climate risks at the six bases were obscured in the version of the report released Friday.
But inspectors photographed and described some. It included cracked and sunken runways undermined by melting ice, damaged stirrups and roads, and a collapsed rock barrier that had been piled up to hold back floodwater from a river swollen by glacier melting, at Thule in Greenland.
Managers at all six visited bases noted the kind of damage, inspectors said, “but officials from five of those installations said they had not begun incorporating future climate risks into the planning of their installations.”
“They stated that their daily focus was on responding to immediate problems or reducing the risk of existing hazards, rather than planning for future hazards,” the report noted.
The Arctic is heating up two to three times faster than the rest of the world. A heat wave in March that hiked Arctic temperatures 50 degrees (30 degrees Celsius) higher than normal astonished scientists.
Out of 79 U.S. military installations in total, the Department of Defense says two-thirds are vulnerable to worsening floods as the climate worsens, and half are vulnerable to rising droughts and forest fires.