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Amid Ebola, Islamic State Crises, Defense Department Tackles...Climate Change


"Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding..."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, on the military health care system. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will outline the ways his department plans to address climate change in a speech in Peru late Monday afternoon, after the release of a DOD report saying climate change poses "immediate risks" to U.S. national security.

While the department has its hands full with an aerial bombardment campaign against the Islamic State and oversight of projects in Ebola-ravaged nations in Africa, Hagel said the department must play a role in planning for climate change as well.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is traveling not to discuss challenges related to Ebola or the Islamic State, but to discuss climate change. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

"Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict," Hagel said. "They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe."

The initiative is likely to run into skepticism from many Republicans, especially given the ongoing challenges the Defense Department faces as it tries to help mitigate the Ebola crisis in Africa, and tries to beat back the Islamic State in the Middle East. Many critics have said the Obama administration's airstrike campaign against the Islamic State does not appear to be working, and that ground troops may soon be needed.

In addition, the initiative is being announced just as new evidence has emerged that there has been little evidence of warming in the Earth's air or oceans for several years now. Just last week, NASA said the Earth's oceans haven't warmed since 2005, although NASA said sea levels still appear to be rising.

Still, Hagel said DOD sees climate change as a "threat multiplier" that could make conflicts around the world even worse. He also said more frequent calls for humanitarian aid are one possible outcome.

"Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities," he said. "Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions."

Hagel said that while there is uncertainty about how climate change will affect the planet, that's no reason to delay action. DOD's Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap is his response.

That roadmap includes a survey of thousands of U.S. military installations, some of which are prone to flooding and will see more flooding as the planet warms up. "In places like the Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S military sites in the world, we see recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years," he said.

Climate change is also being factored into war games and war planning, as well as how the National Guard might be used to help domestically. He said work with U.S. allies is also needed.

"Climate change is a global problem," he said. "Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone."

Hagel's meeting in Peru will be with other Western Hemisphere defense ministers to talk about how to build "joint capabilities" for emerging threats related to climate change.

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