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US Navy and Coast Guard Testimony on Climate and Security in the Arctic

031000-N-XXXXB-001On Tuesday, November 17, the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing addressing climate and security in the Arctic. It was titled Charting the Arctic: Security, Economic and Resource Opportunities. Witnesses included Rear Admiral Lower Half Timothy C. Gallaudet, USN Oceanographer and Navigator, U.S. Department of Defense, Vice Admiral Charles D. Michel, USCG Vice Commandant, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Admiral Robert Papp, Jr., USCG, Retired U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic, U.S. Department of State. Excerpts from their written statements are listed below.

Rear Admiral Lower Half Timothy C. Gallaudet, USN Oceanographer and Navigator, U.S. Department of Defense (full statement).

The Navy will likely be called upon to support the U.S. Coast Guard and other U.S. Government agencies by providing marine data collection, sea ice forecasting and predictions, and the forecasting of hazardous weather and ocean conditions. The Navy may also be called upon to support the Coast Guard in search and rescue or disaster response missions, or to ensure freedom of navigation in Arctic waters. Through the implementation of the National Fleet Plan and our respective Arctic strategies, Navy and Coast Guard are identifying opportunities to increase commonality and interoperability to better enable the two components to operate together in support of mutual homeland security and national defense missions.

While balancing all of our global defense responsibilities, the Navy will continually assess our preparedness in response to changes in the Arctic environment or changes in the security environment. Based on informed requirements, the Navy may transition its periodic presence in the Arctic Ocean to operating deliberately in the region for longer sustained periods in order to meet national security priorities, as we do in other parts of the world.

Maritime security and international naval cooperation have always been critical components of U.S. Arctic policy. With indigenous populations spread over a vast expanse, the severe climate and rich natural resources of the Arctic are both a challenge and opportunity. The Navy’s approach underscores the need to strengthen our cooperative partnerships with interagency partners, especially the U.S. Coast Guard and international Arctic stakeholders. It acknowledges that changes in the environment must be continuously examined and taken into account. The key will be to balance potential investments with other Service priorities and leverage interagency and international partnerships. By taking a proactive, flexible approach the Navy can keep pace with an evolving Arctic Region while continuing to safeguard our global national security interests.

Admiral Robert Papp, Jr., USCG, Retired U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic, U.S. Department of State (full statement)

We cannot and will not ignore Russian aggression, even as our Arctic cooperation continues. The U.S. is in lockstep with the E.U. and Norway on sanctions that target, among other things, Russian’s ability to develop resources in its Arctic waters.

At the same time, we continue to work with Russia and all our Arctic partners on global issues such as those in the Arctic where we share common interests. As we do so, we remain cognizant of how significant changes in the Arctic are creating new challenges and opportunities for the United States and the other Arctic nations. A rapidly warming Arctic climate presents new shipping routes, increased opportunities for trade and oil and gas exploration, and additional tourism. But it also threatens traditional ways of life and increases the risk of environmental pollution. Arctic communities face food and energy insecurity, health concerns, and increased rates of suicide. The challenge of charting a course toward a sustainable future in the Arctic is not lost on me. The federal interagency community is committed to working within our capacities to improve the future of this region.

Admiral Papp on the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council

The United States assumed Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April 2015. Our Chairmanship theme, “One Arctic: Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities,” echoes the belief that all eight Arctic States must work together to address the challenges of a changing Arctic, to embrace the opportunities it presents and to face the responsibilities we all have as stewards of this great region. In recognition of the urgency of the issues facing the region, we convened the first Senior Arctic Official Executive Meeting under the U.S. Chairmanship in June, the first time such a meeting has been held so soon after an Arctic Council Ministerial meeting. This gathering enabled the Council’s working groups, task forces and expert group to expeditiously launch their ambitious work plans for the next two years, tackling themes we have chosen to highlight during the U.S. Chairmanship:

●  Arctic Ocean Safety, Security, and Stewardship
●  Improving Economic and Living Conditions
●  Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change impacts in the Arctic have resulted in significant reductions in sea ice, making the Arctic Ocean increasingly accessible. We have also seen an increase in shipping through the Bering Strait, a potential future funnel for trans-Arctic shipping traffic. In addition, the ice-diminished maritime environment is attracting resource exploration in areas previously inaccessible. Advancing safety in the Arctic Ocean requires improved maritime domain awareness, for which navigational services such as weather and sea ice forecasting and nautical charting are critically important.

We are prioritizing emergency response by convening exercises under the auspices of the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic and the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic to examine the coordination of emergency response capabilities of the Arctic States, in conjunction with local communities. We are fostering new partnerships with government institutions, the private sector and indigenous communities for emergency response and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the region. The Arctic Council also continues to develop a network of existing marine protected areas to leverage international best practices for sensible maritime activities that avoid areas of ecological and cultural significance where possible. In addition, a Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation is assessing future needs for deepened coordination among the Arctic States in the Arctic Ocean.

The cold temperatures of the Arctic Ocean make it particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. If current emissions trends continue, scientists predict that, by the end of the century, the Arctic waters will become corrosive to all shell-building organisms, thereby threatening an important component of the marine ecosystem as these organisms are a critical food source. The Arctic Council is working to expand the Arctic reach of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, increase the number of stakeholders trained to conduct ocean acidification monitoring, and raise public awareness of this threat to the entire Arctic food web and the people whose livelihoods depend on these creatures.

We remain cognizant of how changes in the Arctic have created significant challenges and opportunities for every Arctic nation, especially for our own American citizens in Alaska. The warming climate threatens the traditional ways of life of Arctic residents and risks disrupting ecosystem balance. During the U.S. Chairmanship, we are striving to bring tangible benefits to communities across the Arctic.

Video of the hearing and full text of statements at:

When published, transcript will be available at:

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