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US Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp Jr on Climate Security

409px-ADMIRALPappDefense News’ Vago Muradian recently sat down with retiring US Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp Jr to discuss how climate change affects the Coast Guard mission and national security. The interview follows the release of the National Climate Assessment, which other military leaders have applauded for its foresight in addressing the security risks of climate change.

Adm. Papp noted that in “the world of consequence management,” climate change is a big deal for the Coast Guard. The section of the interview on climate change is transcribed below. 

Muradian: “We interviewed Papp at the Coast Guard’s new headquarters days after President Obama unveiled a new report on climate change. I asked him how climate change would affect the Coast Guard and national security.”

Adm. Papp “…they start with things as simple as aids to navigation. Part of our maritime governance is to make sure that ships and cargo get safely in and out of our ports. So if the water rises, how does that affect our Ace navigation system that we have? How does that affect dredging with the Army Corps of Engineers? This is all marine safety type issues. I’m not a scientist. I can read what scientists say, but I’m in the world of consequence management.

My first turn in Alaska was 39 years ago and during the summertime up there we had to break ice to get up through the Bering Strait and to get to Kotzebue. Thirty-five years later going up there as Commandant we flew into Kotzebue at the same time of year, I couldn’t see ice anywhere. So it is clear to me there are changes happening, but I have to deal with the consequences of that.”

Muradian: “And that includes also disaster relief and how you deploy your ships at the end of the day also doesn’t it?”

Adm. Papp “Absolutely. Obviously we’ve had Katrina, we’ve had Super Storm Sandy, all these have an impact not just on how we deploy but we are generally in the path of the storm as well. When that storm hit the New York  bite area all my Coast Guardsmen up there were devastated by the storm as well, but they had to keep on working and they had to get the port flowing again, so huge impacts on my service.”

Muradian: “Has there been a full accounting for what would be the total costs associated with this? You mention aids to navigation as being one element of it. There’s parts of the Arctic become more navigable, you have to increase your investments in icebreakers. Has anybody calculated what really the total cost of climate change is going to be to adapt? Even piers, to raise piers for example, as water levels rise?”

Adm. Papp: “Not to my knowledge. You know, talking more broadly about things like this, part of my job as Commandant is to look out 10, 20 , 30, 40 years from now, particularly as it relates to ship building, but we should be thinking about those other things as well. How do you rebuild our infrastructure, replace our infrastructure? But we get so consumed with the annual budget cycle within this city. So much energy that’s devoted to that it really makes it difficult to think strategically and to plan out decades ahead for those things you’re going to need.”

The interview continues to discuss the role of sequestration on the Coast Guard and the rebuilding of the USCG icebreaker fleet. Watch the full interview here.


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