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U.S. House Hearing on the National Security Implications of Climate Change in the Arctic 

By Dr. Marc Kodack 

On November 20, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment and Cyber held a virtual hearing entitled “National Security Implications of Climate Change in the Arctic.” Witnesses providing written statements and answering questions included retired Admiral Paul Zukunft, Former Commandant of U.S. Coast Guard and an Advisory Board member with the Center for Climate and Security; Dr. Susan Natali, Arctic Program Director, Woodwell Climate Research Center; Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, Chairperson, Inuit Circumpolar Council, and Luke Coffey, Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, The Heritage Foundation. 

Highlights of the Hearing 

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee spoke about the security risks posed by melting ice in the Arctic. Key takeaways and recommendations from the statements by members of Congress and witness testimony include:

· The Arctic will see both competition and collaboration among the United States, Russia and China as climate change continues to affect both maritime and land resources, such as loss of sea ice, increased land erosion, rising sea levels, wildfires, and permafrost melting, all of which have implications for U.S. national security. 

· Local indigenous communities will continue to be adversely affected by climate change including effects on fisheries and existing infrastructure which also includes ice. 

· The United States needs to work with NATO partners, other allies, and indigenous communities to address mutual Arctic challenges including those that are directly security-related and those that are environmental. 

· The United States needs to invest resources into the Arctic including building a deep-water port, field additional ice breakers, and launch satellites that can improve awareness and increase communication bandwidth for the military, but also for indigenous communities. There also needs to be top-down support for knowledge sharing among indigenous communities, scientists, and others. Following are links to the witness’s written statements.

Written Testimony Highlights 

ADM (Ret.) Paul Zukunft, Former Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, Member, Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board

“The Arctic remains a bell weather for climate change…I anticipate a continual warming and more accessible Arctic Ocean that will escalate great power competition in the region.” (page 6) 

Full, written statement here

Dr. Susan Natali, Arctic Program Director, Woodwell Climate Research Center 

“While the world has already warmed 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, the Arctic is warming at least two times faster than the global average. In the coming years, Arctic temperatures are projected to continue to rise at an accelerated pace, further exacerbating climate hazards, including wildfires, sea ice melt, coastal erosion, and permafrost thaw” (page 1) 

“Permafrost thaw is occurring in the Arctic, in some situations significantly earlier than was previously projected. That thawing is having profound local and regional implications, including on the human security of Alaska Native and local residents. Permafrost thaw can endanger human health, destroy public infrastructure, threaten cultural resources, destabilize terrain, and cause community-level displacement.” (page 3) 

Full written statement here.  

Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, Chairperson, Inuit Circumpolar Council 

“Our overall collective security is threatened. Our security includes diverse elements, from the Arctic Ocean, its coastal seas, and the cryosphere, which are critical ecosystems that must be protected through partnership with Inuit. And our future security depends upon our direct involvement in all matters concerning the dynamic relationship that we have with our homelands.” (page 2) 

Full written statement here.  

Luke Coffey, Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, The Heritage Foundation 

“Today, the U.S. has four primary security interests in the Arctic region: 

1) Ensuring the territorial defense of the United States. This is particularly true as it pertains to the growing ballistic missile threat. In this regard our relationship with

Canada is key. This is also why it is important for the U.S. to deepen its relations with Iceland and Greenland—both serving essentially the forward operating bases of the North American continent. 

2) Enforcing U.S. sovereignty in the region. In the Arctic, sovereignty equals security and stability. Respecting the national sovereignty of others in the Arctic while maintaining the ability to enforce one’s own sovereignty will ensure that the chances of armed conflict in the region remain low. This is why investment in the U.S. Coast Guard is vital to America’s Arctic security interest. 

3) Meeting treaty obligations in the Arctic region through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Five of the world’s eight Arctic countries belong to NATO. Another two, Finland and Sweden, have a very close relationship with NATO. However, NATO has no agreed common position or policy on its role in the Arctic region. This needs to change. 

4) Ensuring the free flow of shipping and other economic activities in the region. Economic freedom leads to prosperity and security. With melting ice creating new economic and shipping opportunities in the reg.” 

“While the military threat in the Arctic remains low, U.S. policymakers cannot ignore Russia’s recent activities to militarize the Arctic region or China’s increasing role in the region. Both directly impact America’s ability to meet the four aforementioned security interests.” (page 3) 

Full written statement here.  

To watch the archived hearing, click here.  

Members Attending the Virtual Hearing 

William Keating (D-Massachusetts, Chairman); Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania, Ranking Member); August Pfluger (R-Texas); Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia); Peter Meijer (R-Michigan), Susan Wild (D-Pennsylvania); Dan Meuser (R-Pennsylvania); Dina Titus (D-Nevada), Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota); Brad Schneider (D-Illinois).

Dr. Marc Kodack is Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former Sustainability and Water Program Manager in the Office of the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability.

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