Army Releases New Plan to 'Mitigate' Climate Change

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Fijian Army Sgt. Iowani Seru (left) plants dilo trees with two U.S. Army specialists during a coastal and reef revitalization project near Nadi, Fiji.
Fijian Army Sgt. Iowani Seru (left), who serves with the 3rd Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment, plants dilo trees with U.S. Army Specialists Lane Carty and Nathaniel Petenes during a coastal and reef revitalization project during Exercise Cartwheel 2019, near Nadi, Fiji, Aug. 13. (Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Houston/U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs photo)

The Army on Wednesday released its new plan describing how it intends to combat climate change built around trying to survive increasingly extreme weather while limiting the service's contribution to the problem. 

While the plan offers ways to reduce climate change, it does so without directly acknowledging the military's hand in exacerbating the problem as one of the largest industry emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.

As the Pentagon pushes through what many experts describe as likely irreversible impacts to the planet resulting from emissions, the service's plan is founded on one very Army word: mitigation.

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The 50-page plan, which is an extension of the service's overall Army Climate Strategy released earlier this year, offers a series of ambitious goals to meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's 2021 call to "immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations" as the Pentagon points to several instances of climate change-related events that have affected the services.

"Dangerous levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) have already accumulated in the Earth's atmosphere," the Climate Strategy Implementation Plan said. "While the Army cannot address all or even most GHG emissions, the right initiatives, investments, and policies can significantly reduce Army GHG emissions while at the same time enhancing readiness." 

"In climate change terms, this is known as 'mitigation,'" it continued. 

One area where climate change is causing challenges for the Army is by creating increasingly extreme weather.

"The effects of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change have already had profound impacts on the DOD," a Pentagon press release said Monday, going on to describe damages to military installations as a result of extreme weather and rising sea levels. 

In 2018, Hurricane Michael demolished at least half of the structures on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, costing $5 billion to fix, according to the release, one example of the potential impact of extreme weather on military facilities.

The increase in extreme weather will also put a strain on the National Guard's disaster response abilities, the Pentagon said, as the country watched Guardsmen rescue people from extreme weather in Kentucky and Florida recently.

The Army also included an ominous warning about the broader risks that climate change poses for the military.

"Indeed, climate change has been described as a 'threat multiplier,'" the plan said. "Extreme drought and flooding will displace individuals and communities, increasing the potential for human conflict and the demand for Army humanitarian relief and disaster response at home and abroad." 

"For the foreseeable future, climate impacts will disrupt Army activities and increase the frequency of crisis deployments," the plan added.

But in trying to explain the impact and countermeasures the military will take, the services have generally been reticent to address the scale of military emissions.

As of 2019, the military has released over 1,000 million metric tons of greenhouse gases since 2001, according to a study from Brown University's Watson Institute.

The Pentagon produced a total of "527 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent from 2010 to 2017, an average of  about 66 million metric tons per year in this period, roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions of 14 million passenger cars driven for one year," according to the study.

The military was also the single largest consumer of energy in the United States at the time, although as the Global War on Terror has come to a close, the energy consumption levels have steadily dipped over the last decade. 

The Army is looking to further reduce that consumption, while battening down the hatches for the damage climate change will likely bring.

"As extreme weather becomes commonplace, the Army must adapt its installations, acquisition programs, and training so that the Army can operate in this changing environment and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth in a Wednesday press release. "This climate implementation plan will improve our resiliency and readiness in the face of these changes."

Some of the Army's goals outlined in the Climate Strategy Plan include the introduction of an Electric Light Reconnaissance vehicle next year -- the first in what the service hopes to be a long line of rechargeable combat vehicles by 2050. Additionally, the Army wants to provide "100% carbon-pollution-free electricity" for all its installations by 2030; achieve a reduction of 50% greenhouse emissions for all Army buildings by 2032; and achieve "net-zero" emissions for all installations by 2045.

The plan released Wednesday is meant to provide guidance on how to support those goals.  Instructions include "using existing Army processes" to reach the goals, tracking emission closely, and allowing subordinate units to participate in "technology assessment and demonstration programs which provide resources to test and validate new ideas."

The Air Force released its own climate action plan a few hours before its sister branch, promising a net-zero emissions goal by 2046, according to NBC News.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: Army Lays Out Ambitious Goals to Combat Climate Change, Including Electric Tactical Vehicles

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