Climate and securityPanetta: Environment is becoming a national security concern

Published 8 May 2012

Climate and environmental change are emerging as national security threats that weigh heavily in the Pentagon’s new strategy; the secretary also said he has great concern about energy-related threats to homeland security that are not driven by climate change

Climate and environmental change are emerging as national security threats that weigh heavily in the Pentagon’s new strategy, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told an environmental group last week.

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” Panetta said here at a reception hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund to honor the Defense Department in advancing clean energy initiatives. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Panetta said.

A U.S. Department of Defense reports that Panetta cited the melting of Arctic ice in renewing a longstanding call for the Senate to ratify the UN Convention on Law of the Sea. More than 150 nations have accepted the treaty, which has been in force since the early 1990s, and a succession of U.S. administrations have urged ratification.

Among other things, the convention would guarantee various aspects of passage and over-flight for the U.S. military. Panetta urged his audience to use their influence to push for treaty ratification. “We are the only industrialized nation that has not approved that treaty,” he said.

The secretary also said he has great concern about energy-related threats to homeland security that are not driven by climate change.

“I have a deep interest in working to try to ensure from a security perspective that we take measures that will help facilitate and maintain power in the event of an interruption of the commercial grid that could be caused, for example, by a cyber attack which is a reality that we have to confront,” he said.

Budget considerations compound the issue, the secretary said. The Defense Department spent about $15 billion on fuel for military operations last year. In Afghanistan alone, the Pentagon uses more than fifty million gallons of fuel each month on average. Combined with rising gas prices, this creates new budget issues for the department, Panetta said.

“We now face a budget shortfall exceeding $3 billion because of higher-than-expected fuel costs this year,” he told the audience.

Paneta, who grew up in Monterey, California and then represented the Monterey Bay area in Congress, said he has had a lifelong interest in protecting the nation’s resources. He pledged to continue to keep the Defense Department on the cutting edge in the push for clean energy and environmental friendly initiatives, a chief reason why the Environmental Defense Fund honored the department.

“In the next fiscal year, we are going to be investing more than a billion dollars in more efficient aircraft and aircraft engines, in hybrid electric drives for our ships, in improved generators, in microgrids for combat bases and combat vehicle energy-efficient programs,” he said.

“We are investing another billion dollars to make our installations here at home more energy-efficient, and we are using them as the test bed to demonstrate next-generation energy technologies.”

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