Coast Guard’s Gulf Strike Team run rescue operations after Tropical Storm Florence in 2018.

Coast Guard’s Gulf Strike Team run rescue operations after Tropical Storm Florence in 2018. Defense Department

Climate Change Will Force Coast Guard to Respond to ‘More Intense’ Storms, Biden Says

One recent hurricane season cost the service nearly a billion dollars to respond to aid requests and repair the damage to its own facilities. The future is sure to bring worse.

The damaging and deadly storms already stretching the Coast Guard’s resources are “only going to get worse” without immediate action to combat climate change, President Joe Biden said Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy. 

Fighting climate change has been a top priority for the Biden administration, which already set a goal to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 50 percent in the next decade and ordered the Pentagon to find ways to incorporate climate change into its war games.

“Disaster response has long been part of the Coast Guard’s mission, but with the pace of climate change accelerating, we’re seeing more frequent and more intense storms that call for you to respond,” Biden said at the service academy’s graduation ceremony. “These patterns are only going to get worse if we fail to take immediate ambitious action on climate.”

The Coast Guard, which assesses damage and potential pollution threats from the air as well as conducts search and rescue operations during severe storms, has already seen an increase in its hurricane mission. In 2017, for example, the Coast Guard rescued more than 11,000 people in hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria—but needed an extra $914 million to cover its response, plus repair the damage its own facilities sustained in the storms. 

The 2020 hurricane season included a record-breaking 30 named storms. It was the fifth consecutive above-normal season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Officials are also predicting a 2021 hurricane season that is more active than average.

Members of the Coast Guard also responded to deadly wildfires in the Western United States in 2020, flying humanitarian missions to ensure victims are cared for. 

The opening of sea lanes in the Arctic is another impact of climate change that will change the Coast Guard’s mission, Biden said, especially as adversaries including Russia and China start to increase operations in the region. In April, Arctic sea ice was at the sixth smallest level since officials began keeping records more than 40 years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

“The Coast Guard is the proud American presence in the region rapidly growing in strategic importance as the ice recedes,” Biden said. “We, the United States, are an Arctic nation. The United States must demonstrate our leadership and engagement.”