Emphasizing that “the impacts of climate change will continue to challenge our missions, our members, our infrastructure, and the nation we serve and protect,” the new U.S. Coast Guard Climate Framework lays out a response readiness action plan that includes embracing clean-energy innovation, ensuring personnel can best respond to extreme events, and better coordinating with agencies and industry on understanding, preparing for, and responding to changes brought about by the shifting climate.
Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan, who is set to give her first State of the Coast Guard address on Tuesday, said at the outset of the strategy that “impacts of climate change will influence every Coast Guard mission.”
“To uphold our tradition of service to the Nation, the Coast Guard must apply strategic foresight to prepare for the challenges ahead,” Fagan wrote. “This Climate Framework charts the first waypoint of our journey as we move forward at best speed.”
The new framework stresses the potential for “long-term effects on Coast Guard operations, missions, and infrastructure” from climate-change effects including flash floods, wildfires, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures.
The Coast Guard has previously expressed “a sense of urgency” to address and adapt to the effects of climate change, reflected in the 2022 U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic and the 2019 Coast Guard Strategic Outlook.
“We’re witnessing firsthand how the impact of climate change is opening up new access to Arctic waters,” Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations Vice Adm. Peter Gautier told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in December. “This drives greater activity in the Arctic region and with it risk across the maritime sector.”
The Coast Guard Climate Framework is organized into three lines of effort: “Build climate resiliency into our workforce, infrastructure, and assets; plan for and respond to more frequent weather emergencies and longterm climate trends; and develop and leverage partnerships to enhance, enable, and ensure maritime safety.”
To enable long-term success, the strategy stresses the importance of strategic foresight that incorporates “climate science, predictive modeling, and data analytics into contingency and strategic planning,” unity of effort that includes deeper “engagement with other armed services, federal departments, and agencies to ensure we apply the best available scientific information, support interagency solutions, and align Coast Guard priorities with national and international goals,” and innovation that “will integrate resilient design into the recapitalization of aging assets and facilities and the introduction of new capabilities and standards.”
“As new fuel sources and options, as well as offshore energy developments, create an increasingly complex maritime domain, the Service will stay engaged with and sensibly regulate advancements in the maritime industry, adjust to an accelerated pace of progress, and adapt to emerging technologies,” the framework adds.
The first line of effort involves synthesizing research addressing the impacts of climate change to Coast Guard missions, assets, and personnel; conducting a comprehensive risk assessment of Coast Guard infrastructure and prioritize improvements to fortify high-risk facilities; adopting enterprise-wide technologies and capabilities to enable onsite energy generation and enhance energy efficiency; and training and retaining a resilient, climate- aware workforce.
“The Service will adapt how it plans operations, designs assets, and executes missions to account for climate change, leveraging both internal and external research to enhance our resiliency and mission effectiveness in a changing world,” the framework states. “Our understanding of future challenges will be informed by research from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate and partner Centers of Excellence; the Coast Guard Academy, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, and other Centers of Expertise; and core intergovernmental partners including NOAA and NSF.”
The second line of effort involves improving response readiness by expanding incident management training and contingency planning activities; developing a surge staffing model across the total workforce (Active Duty, Reserve, Civilian, Auxiliary) to respond to more frequent emergency events; prioritizing the collection and distribution of information to support enhanced maritime domain awareness; and incorporating climate forecasts and information into contingency and strategic planning.
“The Coast Guard has surged at least 2,000 people per year for the last five years to meet contingency demands. This, combined with increased severe weather incidents, poses serious implications for Service readiness,” the framework notes. “The Coast Guard will develop a more efficient and effective surge-staffing model that identifies members to respond to more frequent response events, including those that are climate-induced.” Information exchanges with NOAA, NASA, the Defense Department, and other federal entities will also be improved to have a comprehensive picture of maritime activity, particularly in the Arctic.
The final line of effort focused on partnerships includes facilitating and enabling industry innovation in response to the quickening pace of change; expanding collaborative planning to enable safe operations in an increasingly complex system; working with established forums and interagency partners to guide policies that shape international climate action; and fostering and leveraging partnerships across government, public, and private stakeholders to build resilience in the maritime sector.
“The Coast Guard will use mechanisms like Area Committees, Harbor Safety Committees, Port Security Committees, and Area Maritime Security Committees to improve planning among maritime stakeholders,” the framework states. “As new technologies and industries come online, the Coast Guard will continue to protect the safe navigation and traditional uses of the maritime domain. The Service will also continue to partner with federal, state, and local agencies and stakeholders to support the adoption of clean energy generation along the U.S. coastline and mitigate risks posed to Coast Guard and maritime operations.”
The framework includes a chart assigning ownership and responsibility to USCG programs for each priority action in the lines of effort.
“We are the maritime service the American people rely on as the world changes. We will lead crisis response, protect our National security and the Marine Transportation System, and facilitate ingenuity as industry adopts the new technology that will power our economy into the future,” Fagan wrote. “Our workforce, infrastructure, and assets will grow more resilient through deliberate investment. The Service will prepare to respond to increasingly frequent weather emergencies and long-term climate trends, and our stakeholders will trust in our strengthened partnerships to enhance maritime safety for all. Tomorrow looks different, so will we.”