The U.S. Department of Defense has been drawing attention to climate change as a significant national security threat for years, so it’s no surprise that the Department of the Army has organized its climate action steps into an organized strategy with a net zero goal. The surprise consists in the degree to which military concerns mirror those of business stakeholders, providing a strong new platform for accelerating private sector decarbonization.
The branches of the U.S. Armed Services have already become early adopters of new – and old – decarbonization technologies to varying degrees.
The money has been adding up. In 2011 Pew Research released a study calculating that the U.S. Department of Defense increased its clean energy investments from just $400 million in 2006 to $1.2 billion in 2009. Pew estimated that DoD was on track to spend than $10 billion annually by 2030.
The Army is a good example of the range of clean tech ventures undertaken by the U.S. military in recent years. Though the Army has been cautious in the area of electric vehicles, in recent years it has made significant investments in efficiency upgrades as well as renewable energy, microgrids, LEED construction standards, alternative fuels and fuel efficiency. Workforce education and the creation of an “energy informed culture” are also part of the endeavor.
Considering the urgency of climate action, a more aggressive approach is warranted. In 2020 the U.S. Air Force set a high bar by announcing carbon-negative status as the ultimate goal for all branches of the Armed Services.
Somewhat less ambitiously, but perhaps more realistically, the new Army Climate Strategy focuses on a 50 percent cut in the Army’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to a baseline of 2005, towards the goal of net zero by 2050.
Many leading U.S. corporations have been pursuing decarbonization, especially in the area of renewable energy investment, only to be frustrated by the power of fossil energy stakeholders to hold up state and federal legislation that would fast track decarbonization.
The Army Climate Strategy supports corporate clean power advocates by outlining the consequences of inaction as a matter of national security. Moreover, the document draws a climate change picture that applies to the private sector as well as to the U.S. military.
“The effects of climate change have taken a toll on supply chains, damaged our infrastructure, and increased risks to Army Soldiers and families due to natural disasters and extreme weather,” the Army Climate Strategy explains, painting a scenario familiar to any business impacted by the latest round of storms and power outages.
The Army began drawing a strong connection between climate change and workforce impacts even before developing the Climate Strategy.
By 2016, Army strategists were taking note of training grounds and facilities rendered unusable by climate-related weather events, and the loss of training days due to extreme heat, dust, or both. The Climate Strategy expands that thought to emphasize employee health as well as operational impacts.
“The Army must prepare for potential consequences including energy and water scarcity; damage to installations and infrastructure; displacement of and disruptions to operations, supply chains, and logistics; and imperiled Soldier health through exposure to airborne irritants like smoke and dust, disease vectors, and temperature extremes,” the Climate Strategy warns.
The Climate Strategy lists three key areas of action that provide additional validation for private sector efforts on climate action.
One is the familiar area of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from facilities and grounds, while also adapting infrastructure to improve resilience.
Another action area provides for workforce training regimens that take inevitability of an altered climate into account. That area should send a strong signal to any remaining climate “skeptics” who continue to ignore the science.
The third area deals with procurement, and this is where private sector advocacy on net zero efforts could make a difference.
The Climate Strategy is clear on the Army’s responsibility to clean up greenhouse gas emissions related to its operations, but it is not as straightforward in dealing with the ripple impacts of producing goods and providing services for the Army.
A summary of the Climate Strategy simply states that “Acquisition & Logistics will increase operational capability while reducing sustainment demand and strengthening climate resilience.”
In contrast, private sector stakeholders have begun to prioritize supply chain and lifecycle impacts in their climate action and net zero strategies, including ethical sourcing as well as environmental impacts. Many are also deploying evidence-based tools through the Science Based Targets initiative and the UN Global Compact.
Just as the Army’s interest in climate action can support and validate private sector efforts, businesses that are leading on climate action can leverage their experience to advocate for a more holistic and effective Army Climate Strategy.
Image credit: U.S. Army via Facebook
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.
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