Military Must Be Ready For Climate Change Challenges: Hagel

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday described climate change as a "threat multiplier," and stressed that the US Defense Department is taking steps to incorporate this issue into all planning.

Hagel told his counterparts attending the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas in Peru that climate change has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges the world already confronts, from the spread of infectious diseases to spurring armed conflicts, according to a Pentagon release.

"The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline and trigger waves of mass migration," he said.

On the issue of rising sea-levels, Hagel cautioned that the sea may claim 1,200 square miles of coastal land in the Caribbean in the next 50 years, and added: "According to some estimates, rising temperatures could melt entire glaciers in the Andes, which could have cascading economic and security consequences."

These climate trends clearly will have implications for regional militaries, Hagel said, as more extreme weather will cause more natural disasters and military personnel will be called on to deliver humanitarian assistance and relief.

"Our militaries' readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed," he said.

Hagel announced a Defense Department Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap during his speech. The roadmap is based on science, he said, and describes the effects of climate change on DoD's missions and responsibilities.

"We have nearly completed a baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of our military's more than 7,000 bases, installations and other facilities," Hagel said. "Drawing on these assessments, we will integrate climate change considerations into our planning, operations and training."

Encouraging Western Hemisphere nations represented at the conference to participate in the Defense Environmental International Cooperation program, Hagel said: "We will share our findings, our tools for assessment and our plans for resiliency. We will also seek to learn from partner nations' experiences as well."

"We must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change, and we must be pro-active in addressing them," he added.

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