Department of the Navy’s new strategy for climate challenges expands scope

Deborah Loomis, senior adviser for climate change to the Secretary of the Navy, joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk more about it.

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The Department of the Navy has a new strategy for dealing with climate challenges. Like past plans, it addresses what the Navy and the Marine Corps can do to make their operations more resilient to climate change. But this one also lays out some specific goals to reduce the services’ impacts to the climate. Deborah Loomis is senior adviser for climate change to the Secretary of the Navy, and she joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk more about it.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: Ms. Loomis, I think the important place to start here is to talk a bit about why climate is a concern for the Department of Navy in the first place and why the Navy needs a climate plan. Describe for us a little bit why it is important or as as the Secretary put it in his sort of preamble letter, existential I think is the word he used?

Deborah Loomis: Yeah, for sure. So Secretary [Carlos] Del Toro has called it existential. Others have as well, Secretary [Lloyd] Austin, certainly the president has. Secretary Del Toro also called it one of the most destabilizing forces of our time. And it’s hitting us as the Department of the Navy on a few different fronts. On one hand, it’s shaping the whole context, for the world, and certainly in which warfighting will happen. Right, so it’s making the world a more unstable place. It’s making it harder for us to respond by threatening our installations, challenging putting our sailors and Marines and our platforms and more challenging conditions, and increasing the demand signal on things we need to respond to. So it’s hitting us on a number of fronts, and it’s fundamentally shaping kind of the global context.

Jared Serbu: Why is 2030 the target horizon in this particular plan? There’s certainly some things you can do on smaller scales, in that, I guess in the next eight years, we have that the plan covers. Some things have longer time horizons on the climate front. Talk about what can be done in that, again, shorter timeframe.

Deborah Loomis: Sure. So our north star is net zero by 2050. But we did call it “Climate Action 2030.” And that’s for a couple of reasons. One, the scientific community has been very clear that we are in the critical decade, as a world. We are in the critical decade, to really reverse the trajectory or alter the trajectory in a way that avoids those worst-case scenarios of climate change. So the time is now. And as a department, it’s hard to organize yourself around something that’s so far away as 2050. And so we wanted to keep it kind of closer in. We are facing – climate change is here today, it is not a someday threat, it is not a speculative phenomenon. So we really wanted to stay focused on the here and now. So that’s why that time horizon.

Jared Serbu: I want to talk about the resilience side of the plan in just a minute. But first, just let’s go through some of the things that Navy believes that it should be doing as its contribution to things like reducing greenhouse gases, etc. Reducing the Navy’s direct impact to climate change, I think has not been as much of a focus in previous years under previous administrations, under previous secretaries. It very much is in this plan. Can you talk first about why those factors are incorporated into this plan and some of the key things that you want to do there?

Deborah Loomis: So you are right, we set the strategic objective was to build a climate-ready force. And we were very deliberate and intentional, that that has two components. We can make ourselves resilient. And we will absolutely do that. And there’s, we have a long track record of working on that. And we can talk about some of the initiatives that we’ll do on that front. And we do have a responsibility as part of kind of humanity, the greater collective. We have a responsibility to do our part, like everybody else does, if not us, if not the Department of the Navy, an organization of just tremendous reach and breadth and agency. Who else are we going to call on to do their part? When we do that. it’s not just altruistic. We were very, I hope, diligent and made very clear in this plan how and when we do that, when we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we make ourselves better warfighters. When we reduce platforms need for fuel or refueling, if you can go longer between refueling, that’s a more capable platform. If you can generate energy for tactical forces at the far edge of the battlefield, and reduce your need to resupply and reduce the vulnerability of supply lines. That is a more capable force. Those benefits go on and on when you are at home on a shore installation. When we, like Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany that we announced the day that we launched our strategy, we also announced that was a net zero energy installation. They’re saving around $600,000 a month in their energy costs based on – and they expect that savings to grow – based on being net zero. Those are savings that can be reapplied to something else making us a stronger force. So we really do believe that there’s no daylight and there’s like, only reinforcement between making ourselves more efficient and making ourselves more capable force.

Jared Serbu: Let’s talk about resiliency a little bit. What are the most important things that you think the Navy needs to do in the near term to make those installations more resilient against these climate challenges, and maybe not just installations, but the whole enterprise?

Deborah Loomis: Well, we can start with installations. And we’ve been doing great work on energy for a long time. We have a commitment in the plan to really expand the use of micro grids and sort of long-term battery storage. For installations, energy is obviously a big concern in the face of climate impacts, like storms etc., wildfires etc. So we have a long history on energy, and we’re going to continue those efforts. Microgrids being one of them, in renewable generation. Just energy efficiency, again, making us – the power that you don’t need is the best kind of power. So that’s the most resilient, resilience you don’t need to buy when you are more efficient. One of the things that we’ve emphasized in this plan that we have been doing but maybe have been less vocal about is nature-based resilience. And climate change comes down to water, too much water, too little water, too hot. So the ability of nature to sort of mitigate or dampen or withstand those effects. So we’re going to work really hard. And we have a lot of examples all around the country already on things like living shorelines. We are coastal force, obviously, as the Department of the Navy. We are right on those right on those coastlines, and facing all those impacts from storm surge and erosion and sea level rise. So that is an area that we’re going to invest in a lot. It makes so much sense. And we can partner with defense communities, with other conservation organizations, municipalities, and really make those dollars go further and protect not just our bases, but where we live and work in those communities and our neighbors.

Jared Serbu: And in speaking of dollars, the plan talks specifically about integrating climate considerations into the budget process every year and the planning cycles every year. And I assume by that you’re not just talking about budgeting for climate-related activities, but kind of weaving these things into everything that the department does. Can you talk a bit more about how you think about that process?

Deborah Loomis: Yeah, no, exactly. You’ve got it exactly right. And we’ve already taken a turn at looking backwards. When the administration came in, looking backward, what would we say are investments that are kind of aligned to climate, either building resilience, making ourselves more efficient? We’re actually already spending quite a bit on things that are making us more resilient, are making us more efficient. And that is precisely because this is not a political endeavor. This happened through the last four years. And there were significant investments in things like advanced batteries, investing in domestic supply chains for batteries and other rare earth minerals that are key components of our platforms. So they have a climate angle, and they have a very strong warfighting angle. So I think you’re exactly correct in that what we’re trying to do in this plan is make this not sort of a one-trick pony, or there’s no kind of silver bullet or magic program that I’m going to hold up and say this is the answer. Because the answer is going to come across all domains, in many solution sets large and small, like some of the ones I’ve already cited, or like hull coatings, making your ship have less friction on it so that it can go further. That’s a climate benefit. It’s a warfighting benefit as well. So you’re right. It’s absolutely integrated into everything we do. And we’re just looking at it more intentionally, to try to make sure that we’re making all the investments that we can and that we’re smart about getting the greatest sort of climate bang for the buck that we can, along with those warfighting and resilience benefits.

Jared Serbu: Again, we’re unfortunately just because of time not going to get to every single aspect of this report. But one interesting one is the Department of the Navy has plans for carbon drawdown, which is not something I’ve heard the military talk about being involved in before. Can you share a little bit about what the DON’s doing there?

Deborah Loomis: Yeah. So if you look at the Department of the Navy and trying to get to net zero, we have ships and aircraft and tactical vehicles that are going to be consuming fossil fuels for some time. And we just can’t turn that that spigot off regardless of we can be really ambitious. But that’s just the reality for a little while longer. And so we are harnessing the power of nature, basic photosynthesis, trees, grasslands, we’ve managed around 5 million acres of land in the Department of the Navy. That’s a lot of nature. And that’s a lot of vegetation drawing carbon out of the atmosphere. The international community has been clear that we as a world can’t reach the targets that we need to reach without investing in carbon drawdown at scale. So we are fortunate to be stewards of a lot of land, and a lot of natural resources. We have a wonderful track record of conservation. And we think these are really kind of a no brainer, bipartisan, win-win-win all around. When you invest in nature, you are making communities more resilient, you are making those bases more habitable, more resilient to those climate impacts. So this is an area that we’re, they’re cost efficient. It’s an area that we’re really excited about, and we think it’s going to be a key contributor to actually achieving that net zero.

Jared Serbu: Super interesting. Is that mostly just a matter of applying kind of already known science, planting more trees, or is there a learning process here too where you’re going to partially use Navy real property to study how drawdown can be done most effectively?

Deborah Loomis: I think you’re right, there’s both. Planting trees, there’s what’s called blue carbon. So things like sea grasses and kelp. We also manage a lot of land in the desert ecosystem. So water resilient, I looked at the Desert Southwest, obviously, that’s ground zero for climate change in this country, or certainly one of the most striking challenges that we face. And so we’re looking at what can we do, what can we learn about getting water back in those ecosystems, making that watershed function better than it is right now and perhaps contributing to a solution set on water resilience for the country and for the world?

Jared Serbu: That’s Deborah Loomis, Senior Advisor for climate change to the Secretary of the Navy. We’ll post a link to the new strategy climate action 2030 at Federal News Drive

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