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Highlights

What GAO Found

The expected impacts of weather effects associated with climate change pose operational and budgetary risks to overseas infrastructure according to the Department of Defense (DOD), but DOD does not consistently track the impacts' estimated costs. Operational risks (including interruptions to training, testing, and missions) and budgetary risks (including costs of repairing damages) are linked to these impacts. However, installations inconsistently track these costs because there is no requirement for such tracking. Without a requirement to systematically track such costs, DOD will not have the information it needs to integrate climate-related impact resource considerations into future budgets.

Severe Erosion at a Department of Defense (DOD) Munitions Storage Complex in the Pacific

Severe Erosion at a Department of Defense (DOD) Munitions Storage Complex in the Pacific

DOD surveyed overseas installations on their vulnerability to the operational and budgetary risks of weather effects associated with climate change, but the approach used to gather survey data on the impacts that cause these risks was incomplete and not comprehensive. Specifically, DOD exempted dozens of overseas sites from completing the vulnerability assessment, and did not include key national security sites. As a result, DOD did not obtain information on risks posed by weather effects associated with climate change at many key overseas installations, which is critical for managing such risks at these locations.

While the military services have begun to integrate climate change adaptation into installations' plans and project designs, this integration has been limited. For example, only about one-third of the plans that GAO reviewed addressed climate change adaptation. Similarly, projects GAO discussed with DOD officials were rarely designed to include climate change adaptation. This is due to the inconsistent inclusion of climate change adaptation in training and design standards for installation planners and engineers. As a result, planners and engineers do not have the information needed to ensure that climate change-related risks are addressed in installation plans and project designs.

DOD collaborates with host nations at both the national and installation level, but cost sharing agreements and other collaboration efforts generally do not include climate change adaptation. Without more fully including adaptation into its agreements with host nations, DOD may miss opportunities to increase the resilience of host-nation-built infrastructure at overseas installations to risks posed by the weather effects associated with climate change.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to DOD, climate change will have serious implications on the ability to maintain infrastructure and ensure military readiness. DOD has identified risks posed by climate change and begun to integrate adaptation in guidance. GAO was asked to assess DOD's actions to adapt overseas infrastructure to the expected challenges of climate change.

GAO examined the extent to which DOD (1) identified operational and budgetary risks posed by weather effects associated with climate change on overseas infrastructure; (2) collected data to effectively manage risks to infrastructure; (3) integrated climate change adaptation into planning and design efforts; and (4) collaborated with host nations on adapting infrastructure and sharing costs. GAO reviewed DOD data and documents on climate change, planning, and cost-sharing and visited or contacted a nongeneralizable sample of 45 overseas installations reporting climate change impacts.

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Recommendations

GAO is making six recommendations, including that DOD require overseas installations to systematically track costs associated with climate impacts; re-administer its vulnerability assessment survey to include all relevant sites; integrate climate change adaptation into relevant standards; and include climate change adaptation in host-nation agreements. DOD non-concurred with two recommendations and partially concurred with four. GAO recognizes DOD's efforts to review its climate-related policies, but continues to believe its recommendations are valid, as discussed in this report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Air Force The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to issue a requirement to their installations to systematically track the costs associated with extreme weather events and climate change. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In October 2017, DOD non-concurred with our recommendation. In August 2018, an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) stated that because DOD non-concurred with this recommendation, the department has no plans to implement it. DOD officials stated that as of June 2021, the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to issue a requirement to their installations to systematically track the costs associated with extreme weather events and climate change. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In October 2017, DOD non-concurred with our recommendation. In August 2018, an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) stated that because DOD non-concurred with this recommendation, the department has no plans to implement it. DOD officials stated that as of June 2021, the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Army The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to issue a requirement to their installations to systematically track the costs associated with extreme weather events and climate change. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In October 2017, DOD non-concurred with our recommendation. In August 2018, an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) stated that because DOD non-concurred with this recommendation, the department has no plans to implement it. DOD officials stated that as of June 2021, the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Air Force The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should take steps to administer the Screening Level Vulnerability Assessment Survey, or a similar instrument, to all relevant locations. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In October 2017, DOD non-concurred with our recommendation. In August 2018, an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) stated that because DOD non-concurred with this recommendation, the department has no plans to implement it. DOD officials stated that as of June 2021, the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should take steps to administer the Screening Level Vulnerability Assessment Survey, or a similar instrument, to all relevant locations. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In October 2017, DOD non-concurred with our recommendation. In August 2018, an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) stated that because DOD non-concurred with this recommendation, the department has no plans to implement it. DOD officials stated that as of June 2021, the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Army The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should take steps to administer the Screening Level Vulnerability Assessment Survey, or a similar instrument, to all relevant locations. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In October 2017, DOD non-concurred with our recommendation. In August 2018, an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) stated that because DOD non-concurred with this recommendation, the department has no plans to implement it. DOD officials stated that as of June 2021, the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Air Force The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should implement DOD goals and plans by incorporating climate change adaptation into service-level guidance and required training for the development of installation-level plans, including master plans and natural resource plans, at all locations. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. According to a July 2018 Corrective Action Plan provided by DOD, it was continuing to review DOD Directive (DODD) 4715.21 on climate resilience; DOD reissued the directive in August 2018. The directive requires the military departments to incorporate adaptation to climate change impacts into their planning for facilities. Further, DOD has incorporated adaptation into other guidance that applies to each of the departments. For example, with revisions to DOD's Unified Facilities Criteria for Master Planning and High Performance and Sustainable Building Requirements, as well the issuance of the guide "Climate Adaptation for DOD Natural Resource Managers," DOD has instructed the military departments' planners to incorporate adaptation into installation-level plans. Further, in 2020 DOD issued guidance that requires the military departments to use a DOD database on sea level changes in their planning for coastal infrastructure (sea level change is one impact of climate change). However, as of June 2021, the Air Force had not provided evidence of required training for installation-level planners that incorporates the DOD guidance discussed in this summary, and DOD officials stated that no further action had been taken to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should implement DOD goals and plans by incorporating climate change adaptation into service-level guidance and required training for the development of installation-level plans, including master plans and natural resource plans, at all locations. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. According to a July 2018 Corrective Action Plan provided by DOD, it was continuing to review DOD Directive (DODD) 4715.21 on climate resilience; DOD reissued the directive in August 2018. The directive requires the military departments to incorporate adaptation to climate change impacts into their planning for facilities. Further, DOD has incorporated adaptation into other guidance that applies to each of the departments. For example, with revisions to DOD's Unified Facilities Criteria for Master Planning and High Performance and Sustainable Building Requirements, as well the issuance of the guide "Climate Adaptation for DOD Natural Resource Managers," DOD has instructed the military departments' planners to incorporate adaptation into installation-level plans. Further, in 2020, DOD issued guidance that requires the military departments to use a DOD database on sea level changes in their planning for coastal infrastructure (sea level change is one impact of climate change). However, as of June 2021, the Navy had not provided evidence of required training for installation-level planners that incorporates the DOD guidance discussed in this summary, and DOD officials stated that no further action had been taken to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Army The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should implement DOD goals and plans by incorporating climate change adaptation into service-level guidance and required training for the development of installation-level plans, including master plans and natural resource plans, at all locations. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. According to a July 2018 Corrective Action Plan provided by DOD, it was continuing to review DOD Directive (DODD) 4715.21 on climate resilience; DOD reissued the directive in August 2018. The directive requires the military departments to incorporate adaptation to climate change impacts into their planning for facilities. Further, DOD has incorporated adaptation into other guidance that applies to each of the departments. For example, with revisions to DOD's Unified Facilities Criteria for Master Planning and High Performance and Sustainable Building Requirements, as well the issuance of the guide "Climate Adaptation for DOD Natural Resource Managers," DOD has instructed the military departments' planners to incorporate adaptation into installation-level plans. Further, in 2020, DOD issued guidance that requires the military departments to use a DOD database on sea level changes in their planning for coastal infrastructure (sea level change is one impact of climate change). However, as of June 2021, the Army had not provided evidence of required training for installation-level planners that incorporates the DOD guidance discussed in this summary, and DOD officials stated that no further action had been taken to implement the recommendation.
Department of the Air Force The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should integrate climate change data and projections into the Unified Facilities Criteria standards and periodically revise those standards based on any new projections, as appropriate. (Recommendation 4)
Closed - Implemented
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. Since that time, DOD has taken steps to integrate certain climate change data and projections into the Unified Facilities Criteria. Specifically, in September 2020, the military departments updated the Unified Facilities Criteria guidance on Civil Engineering to provide additional guidance on incorporating DOD-provided sea level change projections into facilities designs in accordance with the department's February 2020 memo directing the consideration of such projections in the facilities design process. Likewise, the military departments updated the Unified Facilities Criteria guidance on installation master planning in September 2020 to refer to a DOD climate vulnerability assessment tool and to the DOD-provided sea level change projections. By doing so the military departments met the intent of our recommendation. DOD also stated in March 2021 that while it remains the department's goal to incorporate additional climate projection data into facilities designs, it does not anticipate doing so at a certain date or in the near future. We are hopeful that DOD will follow through on its intention to incorporate additional climate change projections into facilities design projects.
Department of the Navy The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should integrate climate change data and projections into the Unified Facilities Criteria standards and periodically revise those standards based on any new projections, as appropriate. (Recommendation 4)
Closed - Implemented
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. Since that time, DOD has taken steps to integrate certain climate change data and projections into the Unified Facilities Criteria. Specifically, in September 2020, the military departments updated the Unified Facilities Criteria guidance on Civil Engineering to provide additional guidance on incorporating DOD-provided sea level change projections into facilities designs in accordance with the department's February 2020 memo directing the consideration of such projections in the facilities design process. Likewise, the military departments updated the Unified Facilities Criteria guidance on installation master planning in September 2020 to refer to a DOD climate vulnerability assessment tool and to the DOD-provided sea level change projections. By doing so the military departments met the intent of our recommendation. DOD also stated in March 2021 that while it remains the department's goal to incorporate additional climate projection data into facilities designs, it does not anticipate doing so at a certain date or in the near future. We are hopeful that DOD will follow through on its intention to incorporate additional climate change projections into facilities design projects.
Department of the Army The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force should integrate climate change data and projections into the Unified Facilities Criteria standards and periodically revise those standards based on any new projections, as appropriate. (Recommendation 4)
Closed - Implemented
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. Since that time, DOD has taken steps to integrate certain climate change data and projections into the Unified Facilities Criteria. Specifically, in September 2020, the military departments updated the Unified Facilities Criteria guidance on Civil Engineering to provide additional guidance on incorporating DOD-provided sea level change projections into facilities designs in accordance with the department's February 2020 memo directing the consideration of such projections in the facilities design process. Likewise, the military departments updated the Unified Facilities Criteria guidance on installation master planning in September 2020 to refer to a DOD climate vulnerability assessment tool and to the DOD-provided sea level change projections. By doing so the military departments met the intent of our recommendation. DOD also stated in March 2021 that while it remains the department's goal to incorporate additional climate projection data into facilities designs, it does not anticipate doing so at a certain date or in the near future. We are hopeful that DOD will follow through on its intention to incorporate additional climate change projections into facilities design projects.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Policy), the geographic combatant commands, the sub-unified commands, and the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to consider climate change adaptation as they develop DOD's position for future negotiations with host-nation governments on cost-sharing activities, when relevant or appropriate. (Recommendation 5)
Open
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. According to a July 2018 Corrective Action Plan provided by DOD, the Department is continuing to review and update the processes and criteria governing host-nation cost-sharing negotiations to strengthen or incorporate resilience measures. Since each bilateral agreement is unique, these must be completed on a case-by-case basis. Further, DOD noted that any updates would occur on a "rolling basis." DOD officials stated that as of June 2021 the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to issue guidance, as appropriate, that calls for more formal coordination mechanisms related to climate change adaptation, such as memorandums of understanding, between DOD installations and surrounding host-nation communities. (Recommendation 6)
Open
In October 2017, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. According to a July 2018 Corrective Action Plan provided by DOD, the Department is continuing to review guidance for establishing agreements between host-nation communities and DOD installations. Further, DOD noted that any updates would occur on a "rolling basis." DOD officials stated that as of June 2021 the department had not taken any actions to implement this recommendation.

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