What happened: The US Navy has dismantled its Task Force on Climate Change, which was designed to use the best available science to prepare naval leadership for global shifts in sea levels, melting ice sheets and ocean temperatures. The task force was shut down in March 2019 without a public announcement and climate change science and information has been scrubbed from the Department’s website. According to a Navy spokesperson the task force was “duplicative” and no longer needed, though the task force’s work has not been fully incorporated into the Navy’s decisionmaking process.
Why it matters: The task force was designed to provide the Navy’s leadership with the best available scientific information on climate change, and shutting down the task force prevents the Navy from adapting to the ongoing effects of climate change and using the information to meet its mission of protecting the nation. There is no other body within the Navy specifically assigned to address these challenges, nor is there any other clearly designated group able to provide the climate science that is so important to the Navy and national defense as a whole. The men and women who serve in the Navy deserve to be guided by the best available science on climate change, and the shuttering of this task force could have serious repercussions on the ability of the Navy to operate in a changing climate.
By dismantling its Task Force Climate Change, which has been in operation since 2009, the US Navy has cut itself off from receiving important scientific information on one of the biggest threats facing the Navy, climate change. The task force’s former director, Retired Rear Admiral Jon White, says that while the task force was “never meant to be a never-ending thing,” he sees “little evidence” that it fulfilled its major purpose, which was for the Navy to incorporate the task force’s work on climate change into their decisionmaking process. Furthermore, the quiet nature of task force’s dismantlement is considered unusual, as it did not release a final report, the Navy has not indicated which offices will take over the task force’s responsibility, and climate change information on the Navy’s Energy, Environment, and Climate Change website has been scrubbed.
The Navy, along with other agencies in the Department of Defense, really need to incorporate climate into its strategic thinking. In June 2019, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Department of Defense needs to do more, not less in planning for climate change. The Congressional Research Service reported in July that military installations needed to plan for rising sea levels. And the US Coast Guard, an agency that is not shying away from the subject of climate change, needs to manage coastal facilities that are now subject to chronic flooding.
Prior to this, the Navy had been an important leader in heeding the scientific evidence and planning for climate change impacts – for instance, numerous reports have been published by Navy from 2010 to 2019 that highlight the urgency and threat of climate change. And the task force provided important information in this regard. For instance, its last report from January 2019 cited real strategic concerns about how climate change is melting the Arctic sea ice and opening up shipping routes in the area, which is changing the geopolitical situation in the Arctic. However, the dissolvement of the task force has diminished the ability of the Navy to assess how climate change will impact its operations. Decisionmakers have now lost an important science-based group to provide the best available scientific information on climate change for the Navy, which only hinders the ability of this agency to face the growing and real threats posed by climate change.