Climate-Sensitive Decision-Making in the Department of Defense: Synthesis and Recommendations

The Department of Defense (DoD) expects climate change to play an increasingly significant role in the Department’s ability to fulfill its mission in the future. For example, many DoD installations are located in coastal areas and will likely experience the impacts of sea-level rise. As a result, DoD has adopted a proactive and flexible approach to vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning for potential impacts from a changing climate. By evaluating which activities and decisions are currently affected by weather-related phenomena, determinations can be made as to how these and others may be sensitive to future climactic changes. Given the breadth of the criteria involved, the DoD requires flexible, yet comprehensive, broad scale- and installation-specific vulnerability and impact assessments to determine both current and future levels of resiliency to climate change as well as the adaptive actions most appropriate and cost effective.

Policy-makers set policy for end users, but they also incorporate feedback from those users, and these interactions are mediated by the state of the science/practice.

SERDP has funded research efforts to improve frameworks for integrating climate change into decision-making, as well as methods to identify and characterize vulnerabilities to climate change. In 2015, SERDP developed a report entitled “ Climate-Sensitive Decision-Making in the DoD: Synthesis of Ongoing Research and Current Recommendations”.  This report provides a support tool for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Military Services in planning and conducting climate change-related assessments to inform decision-making. In addition, this tool supports DoD’s need to mainstream climate information into climate-sensitive decisions. This is done to reduce potential adverse impacts of climate change to installation infrastructure, readiness, and operations, while also taking advantage of potential opportunities presented by a changing climate. The primary objectives of the report are as follows: (1) provide early insights from ongoing SERDP climate change decision framework studies ( RC-2204, RC-2206, and RC-2232); (2) contribute practical methods and examples relevant to climate change decision frameworks, processes, and implementation; and (3) make science-based recommendations to OSD and the Military Services on climate change decision frameworks and mainstreaming use of climate information.

This report is an important step in amplifying the dialogue between scientists, decision-makers, and practitioners. Included in the report are a series of interviews with research principal investigators, a review of research materials, and feedback through SERDP-led forums. These outcomes and SERDP recommendations are structured as follows:

  • Identifying climate-sensitive decisions in DoD,
  • Using frameworks to inform climate-sensitive decisions,
  • Incorporating climate information into DoD climate-sensitive decisions,
  • Connecting climate change vulnerability and impact assessments and adaptation responses.

For more information, visit SERDP and ESTCP’s Vulnerability and Impact Assessment sub-area.

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