Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas on Monday, unveiling a comprehensive plan for how the U.S. military will address the effects of climate change.
Rising global temperatures, increasing sea levels and intensifying weather events will challenge global stability, he said, and could lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease and disputes over refugees and resources.
The Pentagon's "2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap" describes how global warming will bring new demands on the military.
Among the report's conclusions: Coastal military installations that are vulnerable to flooding will need to be altered; humanitarian assistance missions will be more frequent in the face of more intense natural disasters; weapons and other critical military equipment will need to work under more severe weather conditions.
"This road map shows how we are identifying -- with tangible and specific metrics, and using the best available science -- the effects of climate change on the department's missions and responsibilities," Hagel said. "Drawing on these assessments, we will integrate climate change considerations into our planning, operations, and training."
It's necessary to work with regional partners to address the risks posed by climate change, he said. The U.S. military has completed a joint assessment with officials from Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago on the implications.
"If we don't do anything to address the effects of climate change, there will be nothing left," Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said in the opening remarks of the defense summit.
The Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas is the culmination of Hagel's six-day trip through South America, talking with top leaders in Colombia, Chile and Peru. The conference, which brings together 34 nations, began Monday and ends Tuesday.
Military officials from each of the countries gathered into a posh resort here in the high Andes in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa. Defense ministers in staid business suits, military officials wearing colorful uniforms, and journalists from throughout North, South and Central America huddled into a pool-side enclosed pavilion to discuss matters that face the region.
"I recognize that our militaries play different roles and have different responsibilities in each of our nations," Hagel said. "I also recognize that climate change will have different impacts in different parts of the hemisphere. But there are many opportunities to work together."
The United Nations is holding an event in Peru in December to discuss climate change. Hagel called on defense leaders to be part of the discussion because climate change is a "threat multiplier" that can intensify the world's current problems, such as infectious diseases and terrorism.
"We must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change, and we must be pro-active in addressing them," he said.