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Action Team Leads DOD Efforts to Adapt to Climate Change Effects – Department of Defense

The Defense Department is tackling the climate crisis across a variety of fronts, from increasing energy resilience and security to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming. This multifaceted approach is necessary for installations and operations to adapt to climate hazards ranging from increasingly severe storms to wildfires and droughts.

In a message to the force released March 4, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said, “We face a growing climate crisis that is impacting our missions, plans and capabilities and must be met by ambitious, immediate action.”

Austin directed the creation of the DOD Climate Working Group to coordinate the department’s actions in response to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14008, titled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” which put the climate crisis at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security.

The group is tasked with incorporating climate change considerations in strategy, planning and programming documents, and processing and coordinating those documents with the military services. The group will consult with interagency partners to ensure the department’s climate efforts support a whole-of-government approach.

To translate policy directives to action and implementation, the Climate Action Team stood up in March 2021. A parallel effort under the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and energy resilience, it is composed of planners, engineers, researchers and landscape architects, predominantly from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Climate Action Team co-leader Kate White, who is detailed from the Corps to help lead climate programs for the DOD, said that members of the team are predominantly drawn from the Corps because it has been a leader for climate preparedness and adaptation for a long time.

“Engineers occupy a unique niche in translating climate science information into usable information for decision makers,” she said. “So, it’s now actionable information for planning, or engineering design, or construction, or operations, or acquisition — all the pieces related to the impacts of climate change and how we adapt to those.”

The impacts of climate change are going to be felt by the department, and the nation, for many decades to come, she added. “Adaptation is managing those unavoidable impacts.”

Everyone on this team is excited to be part of something so important. We recognize that climate change impacts not just the Department of Defense, but communities across the United States and abroad.”

Joshua Melliger, Army Corps of Engineers

Marissa McInnis, the climate change program director and co-lead for the Climate Action Team, said the team is composed of 24 people. Three are permanent team members to provide continuity, and the rest rotate through every 120 days.

The four month rotation makes it possible to bring in and share new talent and perspectives. It also spreads the wealth of knowledge gained from the team in using the DOD Climate Assessment Tool.

Climate Action Team Members

Shubhra Misra, a coastal engineer with the Corps in Galveston, Texas, is an expert in climate preparedness and resilience.

Although the Climate Action Team only began its work a month ago, Misra said a lot has already been accomplished – including crafting a Climate Action Plan that’s being reviewed now by top DOD officials and is set for release by the end of next month.

Misra and the team are also using the DOD Climate Assessment Tool to do climate assessments for about 1,400 installations worldwide.

The tool, which launched in September, enables personnel at all levels of the department – from installation planners to leadership – to understand sensitivity and exposure to climate-related hazards using both historical data and future climate projections, he said.

“I think the DOD, with its enormous resources, can take leadership and address climate change for this country,” he said. “I’m very honored and excited to be a part of this team.”

Akilah Martin focuses on community resilience and environmental justice related to climate change with the Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago. She said she’s using the climate assessment tool to assess DOD installations and helped craft the climate action plan.

“These are indirect impacts of climate change, but they impact us as a whole and as a global community,” Martin said.

She said it’s important to understand the installations and the communities that surround them holistically, focusing on the entire community and how individuals interact with their environment.

Martin said the holistic approach extends to environmental justice. She hopes it will be something catalyzed and implemented because it’s important to think about justice as a whole, not just environmental justice.. 

“So, I definitely want to have that conversation with lots of people and shift those energies and those values. Having the input of a wide range of affected people is essential in the process,” she said.

Joshua Melliger specializes in water resilience and climate and works for the Corps’ office in Omaha. While with the Corps, he deployed to Afghanistan to study water availability, which is critical to life there.

His work there and in other places gave Melliger an appreciation for water resiliency, he said, which includes not just having enough water available for crops and drinking, but also flood mitigation.

“Everyone on this team is excited to be part of something so important,” Melliger said. “We recognize that climate change impacts not just the Department of Defense, but communities across the United States and abroad. And so we’re glad to be part of a team in which the outcome could set us up for the future, to be more prepared, to be more resilient. And not only in water, but in climate, in environmental justice, and other components of this program.”

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