U.S. Naval Forces Advised to Improve Readiness for Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC, March 11, 2011 (ENS) – Even the most moderate trends in climate change, if continued, will present new national security challenges for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, finds a new study released Thursday by the National Research Council.

Commissioned by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead in 2008, the report recognizes that the timing and severity of climate change impacts are not fully understood. It recommends that naval leadership “adopt a risk analysis approach for dealing with climate change uncertainties.”

“This report represents the most detailed and analytical look at the impact of climate change on naval forces to date,” said Rear Adm. David Titley, the Navy’s senior oceanographer and director of Task Force Climate Change. “It provides superb guidance for long-term strategic planning and investment considerations.”

The report’s first recommendation is that naval leadership to continue to advocate for accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty that codifies the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the seas.

Although the United States helped draft the convention, signed the 1994 Agreement on Implementation, and adheres to the provisions of the law, the Senate has not yet ratified the convention. The Navy and the Department of Defense have been long-time advocates for ratification.

Small boat from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder approaches the Royal Danish navy ship HMDS Knud Rasmussen for crew exchange as part of Operation Nanook, conducted each year in the Canadian Arctic to expand international ability to respond to emergencies in the Arctic. August 2010 (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Naval forces should prepare for new mission requirements due to the opening of international and territorial waters in the Arctic Ocean as the sea ice continues to decrease, says Bob Freeman of the Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy Public Affairs, commenting on the report, “National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces.”

“It identifies the Arctic as a place where “recent climate change may have the most immediate and obvious implications for maritime operations,” he said.

The recommendations include increasing Arctic operations and training for the Navy and Marine Corps; engaging the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure the most effective command structure with respect to the Arctic; and supporting U.S. Coast Guard initiatives to define future icebreaker requirements.

Opening of the Arctic Ocean will present increased technical challenges to naval forces, the report says, recommending increased research and development efforts to address operational shortfalls and “increase priority for extending modern navigation, communications, and charting coverage to include the Arctic region.”

Polar bears approach the fast attack submarine USS Honolulu while surfaced 280 miles from the North Pole. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)

Increased humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions related to the changing climate are likely to be required, Freeman explained. The report cites amplified stress on vulnerable nations due to “more severe or frequent droughts, floods, storms, and other events with negative consequences for food and water supplies, possibly leading to even greater stress on the expanded human population.”

These same challenges will impact U.S. allies and their militaries, said Freeman. Since no single nation can be fully prepared to respond to all climate contingencies, the report recommends fostering enhanced partnerships with “long-standing allies and non-traditional partners alike.”

The report suggests strengthening NATO, saying “developing climate change response capabilities within the NATO alliance could strengthen global climate change response capabilities and the alliance itself.”

Rising sea levels and increased storm surges will affect naval coastal installations, and the report suggests naval forces should carefully assess facility vulnerabilities and consider potential risks when renovating existing or planning future infrastructure.

The study supports investment for additional research and development, particularly contributions to a global ocean observing system and the development of climate forecasting models that incorporate data from land, ocean, atmosphere and ice, to provide reliable predictions decades out.

The authors of the report commended both the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change and Task Force Energy for providing strong leadership on these issues across the Navy and the Department of Defense, saying, “both task forces are well positioned in capability and credibility to continue their strong contributions.”

“The findings and recommendations of this study will help ensure that U.S. naval forces are able to adapt to a changing climate and fulfill any mission assigned by the president throughout this century,” said Titley. “It’s all about being ready in tomorrow’s world.”

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