After years of research and planning, in response to what is recognized as an existential national security threat, the U.S. Army in February unveiled its first-ever climate strategy.
The comprehensive document, available at https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/about/2022_army_climate_strategy.pdf contains information on the threats posed to Army readiness, Soldiers and to the overall mission by climate change. It is intended to guide decision making in response to threat to unit sustainability, readiness and resiliency. It also sets a course to reduce future climate impacts.
“The Army must adapt across our entire enterprise and purposefully pursue greenhouse gas mitigation strategies to reduce climate risks. If we do not take action now, across our installations, acquisition and logistics, and training, our options to mitigate these risks will become more constrained with each passing year," said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, in announcing the climate strategy.
For Kenneth D. Norman, Chief of the Environmental Strategic Action Branch of the U.S. Army Environmental Command, this policy change, and the need to educate, share information and vital training on the strategy and its implementation, has driven his work.
“What we are focusing on is communicating the climate change policy, and also helping to get the training for the garrisons and their leadership,” he said, noting that the climate strategy announcement has helped drive focus on the challenges ahead and increased interest in looking for the right solutions to deal with these changes while maintaining the highest level of focus on the mission.
“We have to make sure we have a stable and resilient future for our country and for our army,” he said. “We are taking the steps necessary to make sure we are continually staying ahead of where things are going, and how we’re going to be adapting to the future.”
He pointed to a recent pilot program at Fort Carson in Colorado launched by IMCOM called a climate resiliency plan, that considers both the global changes being brought about by climate change, but also the local conditions and impacts at the garrison level.
“At Fort Carson, for example, the plans consider the increased risks of wildfire, drought and reduced rainfall, and it also looks at how when you do get rain in such an environment, how that can cause bigger flooding problems,” he said.
The impact on training, on cultural resources, including things like burial grounds, as well as garrison infrastructure are all factored into the planning process.
“When I talk to the people at the garrison, we get together to discuss these sorts of things,” he said. “We look at how you can maintain the vital training you need for readiness, how you need to plan when you are adding a new building, all the ways that climate change can and will require us to adapt.”
He added that prioritization amongst competing issues is the biggest concern as garrisons seek to meet the increased challenges ahead, factoring in the increasing impacts of a warming planet both globally and locally.
“Every garrison is going to have its own issues and interests, and the key is to help identify those and develop the appropriate plans and implementation strategies,” he said.
Norman added that a key area of emphasis across the installations will be improving infrastructure and helping to lessen the Army’s carbon footprint. He pointed to the climate strategy’s plans to continue and even improve on the reduction of greenhouse gases emitted by Army operations as a crucial part of efforts across the Army.
Since 2008, the Army has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. The climate strategy calls for a 50% reduction in these emissions by 2030, net-zero emissions by 2050 and a requirement to proactively consider climate change in strategy, planning, acquisitions, supply chain and programming documents and processes – essentially touching on all the things the Army does to protect and defend our nation’s interests.
“If we’re not leading the charge, and directly dealing with these issues, then we are falling behind,” Norman said.