August 25, 2011

Read This Now: U.S. Navy Arctic Environmental Assessment

The U.S. Navy’s Task Force Climate Change recently released
its latest assessment in support of the Navy’s Arctic Roadmap.  What I found particular interesting given our
work on the gap between the climate science and national security policy
communities (see Lost in Translation: Closing the Gap Between Climate Science and
National Security Policy
) was
the explicit mention of the Navy’s need to generate its own scientific
assessments and information to shape its decision making. The Navy conducted
its own assessment in part because the pace at which the independent scientific
information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is
produced is not adequate to support the military’s Program Objectives
Memorandum (POM) cycle – that is, the memo guiding the services’ 6-year programmatic
needs.  It is important to note that “Significant
force structure and end-strength changes, as well as major system new starts
must be identified
” in the POM (see my post yesterday on the need
to make hard choices about naval capability and force structure in Arctic
). According
to the Navy’s report:

This first biennial report provides
a comprehensive assessment of the state of the Arctic environment, including
the oceanography, hydrography, meteorology, fisheries, ice-extent, and climatic
trends. This
is important because the IPCC refresh rate is too long to meet the budget POM
cycle, so this assessment will periodically synthesize existing scientific
reports to inform POMs, specifically POM-14
this allows the Navy‘s
decisions to be based on sound science, and not use one source only, but a
consensus of accepted sources. (Emphasis added)

Another interesting point that is worth mentioning is the
Navy’s assessment of Arctic fisheries, and the potential challenges that could
loom as Arctic nations jockey for resources in the High North. “The
impact of current and future Arctic fisheries on the marine environment and
marine biodiversity in the Arctic is not likely to be fundamentally different
from impacts to the marine environment and biodiversity in other parts of the
,” the report found.  “However,
the challenge in enforcing fishing regulations is much different due to the
harsh nature of the Arctic environment. Increased access to Arctic fisheries
could lead to over-exploitation of target species and a variety of impacts on
non-target species, for instance on dependent species due to predator-prey
relationships, on associated species due to by-catch and on benthic species due
to bottom fishing techniques.”

Fish migration is just one of the many environmental trends
the report assesses. But it is particularly salient given the role we’re seeing
fisheries play in exacerbating tensions in other parts of the world –
particularly the South China Sea, as Vietnam, Japan, China and others struggle
over rights to fish in contested territorial waters. One has to wonder, as the
Arctic opens up and commercial fishing becomes viable, will we see similar
tensions arise between neighboring states in the Article Circle? Perhaps.