According to Pemberton’s analysis, the Obama administration has significantly bolstered spending related to climate security, shrinking the gap between military and climate security spending from 88:1 under the Bush administration’s FY2008 budget to 65:1 under Obama’s FY 2010 budget.
According to Pemberton, the gap is even smaller—9:1—if one includes the appropriations in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. However, this one-time boost is fleeting. While much of the Recovery Act “provides funding for long-term projects, such as high-speed rail systems, [funding] will need to be sustained if emissions reduction targets are to be met,” Pemberton argues.
At face value, “Military vs. Climate Security” is an important assessment that illustrates how seriously the Obama administration is taking the threat of global climate change. But with that said, several words of caution are in order.
First, the author seems to oversimplify military spending, and the report could be read as inferring that the Department of Defense (DoD) has an unnecessarily oversized budget. Regardless of one’s general opinion of military spending levels, the United States is still engaged in two wars that require high levels of funding to ensure that our armed forces have the equipment to operate efficiently, safely and successfully – and the means necessary for a safe drawdown in Iraq. And while military spending has increased between FY2009 and FY2010, the White House has made significant inroads with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees “to terminate or reduce programs that have troubled histories or that failed to demonstrate adequate performance when compared to other programs and activities needed to carry out U.S. national security objectives,” such as cutting new orders for the F-22 program.
Second, Pemberton may be overstating the gap between military and climate change spending, as her premise would require a more rigorous assessment than is apparent in this report. According to her calculations in Appendix C, DoD is spending only $31.12 million on climate change-related programs and activities: $14.3 million on programs related to research, development, testing, and evaluation by the Army; and $16.82 million on similar programs by the Navy. But these figures do not come near to quantifying DoD’s full efforts.
Take, for example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is spending approximately $100 million of its $3 billion annual budget on projects related to alternative energy (and this does not even include its classified energy projects).
It is also unclear how personnel have been quantified. According to Christine Parthemore of the Center for a New American Security, today there are far more people at DoD who are looking seriously at climate change, equating to a considerable expense of man- hours. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act, for example, requires DoD to assess the impacts of climate change on its facilities, capabilities, and missions, and to incorporate its concerns into its major strategic documents, including the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which is now underway.
“Does this assessment count all alternative energy efforts as working toward climate security?” wonders Parthemore. The U.S. Air Force is expanding its energy office, which is working to increase energy efficiency – funding a “new generation of energy-efficient unmanned aircraft,” for example – and developing lower-carbon aviation fuels.
While Pemberton notes the important strides the U.S. Air Force is making to reduce its emissions, it is unclear whether the Army and Navy’s alternative energy work is being counted towards the total. What about partnerships with private industries, such as the planned 500 MW solar thermal plant in California, which is estimated to cost approximately $1.5 billion (the bulk of which might come from an industry partner)?
In addition, the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act includes a $5 million line item for a new Director of Operational Energy, Plans and Programs that will help sculpt DoD’s energy acquisitions and logistics strategy–and ostensibly contribute to climate security.
Finally, Pemberton makes a fundamental conceptual error by separating climate security from “other” security. Convincing the traditional security community that threats from climate change are as important as traditional security threats is a difficult but necessary task; that security exists beyond the Department of Defense, to include long-term challenges in the strategic and operating environments, such as climate change, demographics and other natural security issues. By contrasting spending on climate security against military security, Pemberton makes climate change more like a domestic policy issue and less like a legitimate national security concern.
That the Obama administration is making significant strides in bolstering climate change-related spending is a positive development. However, by not accounting for the full range of DoD efforts that contribute to climate security, this report falls short. A more rigorous analysis of DoD’s budget would provide a better tally of the department’s work to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A better assessment of the Obama administration’s investment in addressing global climate change would combine both military and climate security spending.
Will Rogers is a research assistant with the Natural Security program at the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan, national security think tank in Washington, D.C. Before that, he was an intern with the Environmental Change and Security Program.