July 28, 2010

Spotlight on the Hill: Congress Turns to Financing for Climate Adaptation

Yesterday, I attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Climate Change Finance: Providing Assistance for Vulnerable Countries.”  The committee witnessed testimony from eight individuals on two panels: the first panel included The Honorable Lael Brainard, Under Secretary for International Affairs at the Treasury Department, Dr. Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change with the State Department, Rear Admiral David. W. Titley, Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy and Dr. Maura O’Neill, Senior Counselor to the Administration and Chief Innovation Office at USAID; the second panel included The Honorable Nancy E. Soderberg, President of the Connect U.S. Fund, Elliot Diringer, Vice President of International Strategies with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, The Honorable Reed E. Hunt, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital and Dr. Redmond Clark, Chairman and CEO of CBL Industrial Services.

The hearing itself tended to range far and wide, with representatives using their Q/A time to opine on whether climate change is real, or not; anthropogenic, or not. But there were several parts of the testimony that stood out as particularly interesting for someone who is interested in Natural Security issues.

First, Rear Admiral Titley had two particularly interesting points which resonated with several of our recent blog posts on the Arctic and a DOD energy event that we hosted last Tuesday.  Titley testified that the Navy is watching changes in the Arctic environment with interest, particularly shrinking levels of ice extent and volume.  He stated that “the changing Arctic has national security implications for the Navy,” and that the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review directs DOD to address gaps in the United States’ Arctic capabilities.  The Navy’s Maritime Strategy, for example, recognizes that the potential opening of new shipping routes could generate potential sources of competition for access to the High North, as well as to natural resources beneath the ice.  He mentioned the Bering Strait as one area among many that has the potential to become strategically significant over the next few decades.  He also mentioned that this summer, the Navy “will participate in Canada’s largest annual Arctic exercise, Operation NANOOK.”   While the United States has been increasingly active in the Arctic, with the Navy, Coast Guard and the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (which just recently released its final recommendations) being a visible presence, the United States hasn’t given the Arctic perhaps as much attention as it deserves as it grows in strategic importance, even allowing the only two Coastguard heavy icebreaking ships to fall into disrepair.

Rear Admiral Titley also discussed other efforts by DOD to adapt to the effects of climate change, which are worth quoting in full:

The Navy is conducting climate change wargames that include climate change impacts on future tactical, operational, and strategic Naval capabilities.  Additionally, the Navy has, within the last year, promulgated two roadmaps concentrated on the Arctic and global climate change.  The roadmaps guide strategy, future investment, action, and public discussion on the Arctic and global climate change.  Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has official guidance to look at the effects of sea level rise on its installations in the Continental U.S., and is working with foreign countries on water availability and conflict resolution scenarios as well as water resource operations and infrastructure development in arid and semi-arid regions such as Afghanistan.

Finally, I was glad to hear confirmation from almost every witness that climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts have an explicit and overt connection to U.S. national security interests (obviously we think so, but I’m not sure that every politician and layperson in the United States is convinced).  Soderberg affirmed this point, stating during Q/A that climate change and its impacts are “absolutely a key challenge” for national security (and she even cited CNAS’s Sustaining Security report to make her point).  She pointed out that DOD planning is actually ahead of the game in many ways, but overall the United States is behind the curve on acting to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.  She stated forcefully that the United States must move into a global leadership position on climate change, or we should expect to see the effects of climate change manifest into more violence, poverty and water scarcity, among others challenges, in the near future.