Navy quietly shut down climate change task force

By Philip Athey | 08/07/2019 01:11 PM EDT

The Navy has quietly stood down its Task Force Climate Change, created in 2009 to plan and develop “future public, strategic, and policy discussions” on the issue.

An aerial view of the Pentagon.

An aerial view of the Pentagon. Pentagon Force Protection Agency

The Navy has quietly stood down its Task Force Climate Change, created in 2009 to plan and develop "future public, strategic, and policy discussions" on the issue.

The task force ended in March, a spokesperson said, and the group’s tab on the Navy’s energy, environment and climate change website was removed sometime between March and July, according to public archives.

There is still a climate change link in the lower right corner of the site that led, at last check, to an empty page titled "Climate Change Fact Sheets."


Since it started, the TFCC released several reports on the strategic challenge climate change poses, taking a close look at what the melting Arctic means for strategic planning, and the dangers sea-level rise and extreme weather pose to many naval installations.

Alice Hill, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and former senior director for resilience on the National Security Council under President Obama, said she created a Department of Homeland Security task force modeled on the one created by the Navy.

"They did great work; they were the first task force within the Department of Defense," Hill said. "We viewed them as a model of how the government should initially focus on the problem of climate change."

In an email, the Navy spokesperson said the TFCC was ended because its processes are "now duplicative as functions have been transitioned to existing business processes; therefore, the original components of the task force are no longer needed."


Retired Navy Rear Adm. Jon White, who ran TFCC from 2012 to 2015, said its goal was "never meant to be a never-ending thing," but to "get things down" and have climate change considerations incorporated into the Navy’s planning.

But he said he sees "little evidence" that the task force’s work has been fully incorporated into the Navy’s decisionmaking process.

"Across all of [the Department of Defense], it is hard for me to see that climate change is taken as seriously at it should be," said White, who is currently president of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. "The task force ended, in my opinion, without full incorporation of climate change considerations."

Normally, Hill said, when a task force ends, "there will be a culminating report that says now all of the activities the task force has either have been completed or taken to other areas."

White said he is "suspicious" of how quietly the TFCC shut down, something that even he, as a former director, only heard about "third and fourth hand" as more of a rumor than actual fact.

"It was a very quiet canceling of the task force. I didn’t know about it; no one told me," he said. "Usually, when you stand down a task force, you want to be able to go in there and declare victory."

‘All goes back to the White House’

The task force did not release a final report, nor has the Navy indicated the exact offices that will be taking over the task force’s area of responsibility.

The Navy spokesperson did provide a link to what is now the task force’s final report on the Navy’s strategic outlook for the Arctic, released in January.

Hill said that while it was important to mainstream the TFCC processes, she remains concerned that ending the task force has more to do with a pattern of climate change denial in President Trump’s administration.

"It’s consistent with the patterns we’ve seen: Efforts with the title ‘climate change’ have either been suspended or renamed," Hill said.

"By not mentioning climate change, we are signaling the events that we’re experiencing now, the impacts, are not something that immediately needs to be attended to and planned for," she added.

Trump has been a critic of climate science, having repeatedly called it a hoax that hurts the United States for the benefit of China, and his administration has received criticism in the past for trying to remove climate references from press releases and proposed rules.

"It all goes back to the White House," White said. "That’s what changed, the White House," he added.

White said the president’s insistence that climate change is not a national security threat has led to a culture in Navy leadership where people either do not care enough about the matter or they are too afraid for their careers to fight for climate considerations.

"They don’t want to get targeted by the administration; it’s a battle they don’t want to fight," he said.