US officials warn of climate risk as Trump dismisses it

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior U.S. officials warned Congress on Wednesday about the threat to national security from melting ice in the Arctic as Russia and other adversaries take advantage of the increasing possibilities for shipping and other commercial activity that will emerge as a result of a climate change.

In a message that was at odds with a broader Trump administration effort to downplay the threat from climate change, officials from the State Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Pentagon sounded alarms over the prospect that an area of strategic importance to the U.S. would be free of ice cover starting in a little more than a decade.

Among the effects would be increased opportunities for mining, fishing and shipping that U.S. adversaries, particularly Russia and China, would seek to exploit, said Peter Kiemel, a National Intelligence Council counselor at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"As a result, the Arctic is emerging as a new domain of strategic competition," Kiemel told members of the House Intelligence Committee. "Russia, China and others are dramatically increasing their activities and investments in the region."

The assessments laid bare the disconnect between senior officials who regard climate change as a long-term, global threat and the views of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly broken from that message and even belittled his own government's views.

"I believe that there's a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways," Trump said in an interview on "Good Morning Britain" that aired on Wednesday. "Don't forget it used to be called global warming. That wasn't working. Then it was called climate change. Now it's actually called extreme weather, because with extreme weather, you can't miss."

That contrasted with the view of Rod Schoonover, a senior analyst focusing on global issues at the State Department.

"We expect that climate change will affect U.S. national security interests through multiple concurrent and compounded ways," Schoonover said. "...These include economic damage, threats to human health, energy security and food security."

Jeff Ringhausen, senior naval intelligence manager for Russia and Eurasia at the Office of Naval Intelligence, was more cautious in his assessment, but still conceded a potential threat to U.S. allies posed by a changing Arctic environment.

He said Russia was working to modernize infrastructure on its northern coast and on some of its Arctic islands, with the goal of establishing itself as an economic force. Though Moscow believes there's substantial economic potential in the Arctic, U.S. officials aren't so confident, Ringhausen said.

"Naval intelligence assesses that this economic potential exists, but that the Russian government appears overly optimistic regarding its development in the near and medium term," he said.

He said that while Arctic shipping is likely to increase as a result of thawing, the region will probably account for only a small portion of overall global shipping.

The more direct threat is to U.S. allies in the Arctic rather than the U.S. itself, he said.

"The Arctic has been a closed off arena from a defense perspective for years," RInghausen said. "And now it appears that the ice there is melting, and that's going to open up, from a Russian perspective, a threat vector to them." But, he added, "they've been fairly modest in their modernization."


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