Natural calamities triggered as a result of climate change have a huge potential to reduce naval preparedness, increase maritime criminality, disrupt global supply chains, increase naval deployments, and thereby endanger national security. According to a report published by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in various regions of the world and should be considered a threat to national security.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods of time.” In the maritime realm, it is resulting in sea-level rise (SLR), ocean acidification, warming of oceans, fish migration, coral bleaching, coastal flooding and frequent hurricanes. All these changes have a direct as well as indirect bearing on the role of navies. Hence, building climate change resilience is indispensable for navies around the world.
The US Navy is playing a leading role in the world in this regard
It formed Task Force Climate Change (TFCC) in 2009 to address the implications of climate change on naval operations through policies, investment and action. TFCC adopted a scientific approach in collaboration with other U.S. government agencies, international partners, industry, and academia. Two approaches have been adopted by US Navy: climate mitigation and climate adaptation. Climate mitigation refers to actions that reduce the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by switching to eco-friendly technology.
In a bid to reduce fossil fuels consumption, Former Secretary of US Navy (SecNav), Ray Mabus took bold initiatives in 2009 to transform energy usage across the US Navy. One of them was to meet half of its total energy demand from alternative sources such as biofuel and solar power by 2020. Resultantly, 65 percent of all the energy being utilized by naval bases in US comes from alternative fuels today.
By the same token, the US Navy announced the Great Green Fleet initiative in 2009. Using a blend of biofuel and conventional fuel in a 50/50 mixture, it aimed to launch a Carrier Strike Group showcasing energy efficiency in propulsion and operational procedures. The Great Green Fleet became operational in 2016 with the deployment of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group. In addition, Renewable Energy Program Office (REPO) was launched by US Navy in 2014 to integrate renewable energy into the electrical grid running naval installations.
It aimed to identify cost-effective renewable projects for US naval facilities and achieve 1 GW of electricity from renewable energy sources within a year. The added advantage of all such measures aside from clean energy is a greater resilience to grid disruptions, insulation from oil price fluctuations, lesser reliance on foreign oil and a nimbler footprint on deployment.
Apart from climate mitigation, the US Navy is also focusing on climate adaptation
It refers to adjustments and actions that make an organization more resilient in the face of threats posed by climate change. With reducing sea ice in the Arctic as a result of climate change, the region has emerged as an area of strategic significance for Russian and US navies. It has opened the possibility of new shipping routes and exploitation of marine resources. Accordingly, the US Navy released its Navy Arctic Roadmap in 2009 which was later updated in 2014 as Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014 – 2030. It was prepared by TFCC.
It outlined the strategic approach of the US Navy towards the Arctic Ocean and the implementation plan to support naval operations in the region while taking the rapidly changing environment into account. Moreover, it emphasized on the advancement of maritime domain awareness (MDA) and logistics capabilities in the Arctic.
One of the significant initiatives vis-à-vis climate adaptation is the US Navy’s Climate Change Roadmap 2010. Complementing the Arctic Roadmap, the document aims to augment the Navy’s approach to assessing, predicting and adapting to climate change in regions other than the Arctic. The Climate Change Roadmap specified Navy actions over three phases from 2010 to 2014. The salient include incorporation of climate change impacts on national security into US Naval War College coursework, the inclusion of climate change considerations in strategic guidance documents, fleet training and planning and initiation of multilateral activities building the navy’s resilience to climate change.
It is pertinent to mention that the aforementioned document paved way for the FY 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap released by US Department of Defence (DoD). Nearly 7000 US bases, installations and associated facilities were studied to assess the vulnerability of US bases to climate change. It identified three broad goals to increase climate resilience: assessing the effects of climate change, integrating climate change considerations into DoD’s plans, operations, training and collaborating with stakeholders on tackling climate change challenges.
The way forward
To cap it all, building climate change resilience is indispensable for navies to operate smoothly in the face of threats posed by climate change. The policy measures taken by US Navy vis-à-vis climate change are approbatory and encouraging. It is paramount that navies invest in building climate-resilient infrastructures such as flood barriers to prevent damage from sea-level rise (SLR) and storm surges. Building backup power generators in an elevated position at naval bases increase operational resilience.
Navies must take input from climate experts whenever a new facility is to be situated on the coasts with sea-level rise in mind. Investment in ships and vessels that are more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly not only mitigates the navy’s contribution to climate change but also augments its operational capabilities. The sentinels of the sea must prepare themselves to operate on the front lines of climate change.
The author teaches in the Department of Politics and IR, University of Central Punjab, Lahore. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.