Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said he considers tackling climate change a top priority for the Navy as the Biden administration proposes reducing the fleet by two ships and concerns are growing about how the US Navy compares to China.
“As Secretary of the Navy, I can tell you that since day one I took office, I have made climate one of my top priorities,” Del Toro said in a speech at the University of the Bahamas on March 1.
Del Toro said he met with the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, during his visit and spoke to him “at length” about the climate crisis and focused most of his remarks on the climate.
“The US Navy and Marine Corps team has been working on climate and energy security for a long time,” he said. “And we’re accelerating and expanding that effort.”
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“We see the climate crisis in the same way as damage limitation efforts on a damaged ship. This is a moment when all hands are on deck,” he added.
Del Toro spoke just days before the Biden administration released its 2024 budget proposal calling for a reduction in the naval fleet, though most military pundits and senior naval officers have called for more ships to deter China’s larger fleet.
For several years, the Navy has set a goal of having 355 manned ships. But over the past three years, the Biden administration has proposed shrinking the fleet below the roughly 298 ships currently available, rather than increasing it to a target of 355 ships.
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That year, the Biden budget called for 11 ships to be decommissioned and only nine ships to be built, for a net loss of two ships. That budget proposal was met with skepticism from members of Congress, who have acted for the past two years to protect the Navy from cuts to the Biden administration’s proposed fleet.
“Regardless of the preferred phrases of the day — ‘divestment to invest,’ ‘strategic pause,’ ‘ability over capacity’ — the President’s defense budget is, in practice, sinking our future fleet,” said Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss. , the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “A strong naval base begins with readiness today and a plan to increase our combat force and dominate the seas tomorrow. President Biden is risking our maritime security by refusing to work toward any of these goals.”
As the Navy budget was being prepared for release, Del Toro emphasized the importance of the Navy’s commitment to combating climate change in the Bahamas and noted the many upcoming climate-related events the Navy will be attending.
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“There is no compromise between climate security and our core mission of being the most capable and ready Navy-Marine Corps team,” he said. “The exact opposite is the case. Adopting climate-focused technologies and adopting a climate-conscious mindset strengthens our ability to stand by our partners and allies.”
Del Toro said concerns about climate change would lead to new technologies that the Navy could use to create a “virtuous cycle of energy efficiency, cost savings, maritime dominance and climate security.”
He noted that the President’s special envoy on climate, John Kerry, is currently in the Bahamas and will be meeting with Kerry in Panama at the Our Oceans Conference. And he said the USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed medical ship, is often in the Caribbean to help with “climate-related disasters.”
Del Toro said the head of naval research will host a conference in Florida in April that will focus on how to “address climate change and marine pollution, renew marine renewable and hybrid energy, and integrate unmanned systems.”
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“Climate change is one of the if not Thethe most complex problems we have ever faced – as individuals, as nations and as a species,” he said. “And that’s why my team and I are so happy to be here in Nassau and sharing ideas with you all.”
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