New Report Focuses on Climate Challenges to Naval Forces

WASHINGTON (NNS) — The National Research Council of the National Academies released the “National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces” report, March 10.

The newly-released study was commissioned by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead in 2008, and indicates that 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.

“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.”

Acknowledging that the timing and severity of climate change impacts are not fully understood, the report recommends that naval leadership “adopt a risk analysis approach for dealing with climate change uncertainties.”

The study addresses both long-term and short-term implications, and identifies areas for action for naval leadership, providing findings and recommendations for each area.

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

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

Another recommendation of the study is that naval forces 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. It identifies the Arctic as a place where “recent climate change may have the most immediate and obvious implications for maritime operations.”

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.

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

In regards to global climate change, the study also highlights the probability of increased humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions related to the changing environment. It 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. 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 singles out 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 present significant challenges to 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.

Finally, the study supports investment for additional research and development that will have implications for future naval force operations and capabilities. It specifically recommends investment in 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 expressed the opinion that both the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change and Task Force Energy were providing strong leadership on these issues across the Navy and the Department of Defense, adding that “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.”

By Bob Freeman, Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy Public Affairs
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