TAG PREMIUM BLOG: NATO Embraces Climate Change

Climate change is a national security threat. NATO is on the right track with its recently adopted Climate & Security Action Plan. It should move quickly on the Canadian offer to establish a Climate & Security center of excellence that will help Alliance Forces to adapt to global warming and mitigate their carbon footprint

By Colin Robertson

At their June summit, NATO leaders endorsed a Climate Change and Security Action Plan.  Calling climate change  “one of the defining challenges of our times” it will now be a standing item on summit agendas. 

The Action Plan sets out four goals based on adaptation, mitigation, outreach and awareness: 

  • Incorporate climate change considerations into defense planning, training and exercises, disaster response  and in its procurement practices. In partnership with industry. assess how climate change impacts its deterrence and defence posture, including readiness, enablement, reinforcement, and military mobility.
  • Mitigate NATO’s contribution by developing a “mapping and analytical methodology” for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from military activities and installations. Data on energy demand and consumption will inform operational planning, investment decisions in innovative energy efficient and sustainable technologies and help define the role of Emerging Disruptive Technologies. 
  • Increase climate awareness among allies through annual Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment though leveraging science and technology communities researchincluding gender perspectives in the context of NATO’s Women, Peace and Security policy
  • Enhance outreach with a broad swath of climate-partners to include international and regional organizations, the United Nations, EU, academia, and industry.

To support this initiative, Canada will establish a NATO Center of Excellence on Climate and Security as the place to pool Alliance knowledge and develop preparedness.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began actively soliciting support from Alliance members at their June summit. 

The allies are rallying to the idea. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says “Canada would be the perfect home for this platform.” Climate, geography and diversity define Canada. Fronting on three oceans: the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific. Its coastline is the world’s longest.  

The Centers of Excellence (COE) grew out of the recognition in 2002 that NATO needed mechanisms – a combination of think tank and applied research- to better promote and achieve transformation. The first NATO accredited COE began its program of work in 2005 and today the 27 centers constitute a network of transformational support. They are recognized for their technical expertise in areas including civil-mlitary operations, cyber defence, strategic communications, naval mine warfare defence against terrorism and cold weather operations

The Canadian center hopes to be certified and up and running by 2023. Its location will be a political call but Winnipeg is the Canadian home for NORAD, the Canada-US binational continental alliance. It’s at the geographic center of North America and its winters are formidable. Winnipeg is also the home for the International Institute for Sustainable Developmentand three universities, including the excellent Centre for Defence and Security Studies..

Successful COEs have allied participation, both civilian and military, and when it comes to climate and security the US presence will be vital. As the world’s largest single energy consumer, the Pentagon invests billions to reduce its carbon footprint and harden facilities against the effects of climate change.  Renewable sources, mostly solar and wind currently generate two-thirds of all energy used to power  US naval bases. The Pentagon wants all non-combat vehicles to be electric by 2030. Where the military goes, the civilian world often follows as witnessed notably with the Internet.

The link between climate and security is as old as recorded history. Sailors, in particular, have always had an eye on weather. As Herodotus, the father of history recorded, the Athenian rout of the Persian fleet at Salamis, was helped by a storm that had already sunk a third of the Persian fleet. Today, mmelting Arctic ice opens new avenues to potential conflict.  Rising sea levels threatens hundreds of millions of people globally.  

Mitigating climate change is vital to preserving the peace. Pew surveys of advanced economies put climate change as one of the top international threats.  The link between areas of global stress and the impact of climate change are not coincidental.

In their June communique NATO leaders described climate change as a  “threat multiplier”. It creates choke points for supply chains in the global trade network.  It exacerbates our increasingly unstable international environment. Droughts and floods in conflict-prone regions exacerbate water and food shortages contributing to the displacement of peoples that the UNHCR now estimates at 82.5 million. Mitigate climate change and you mitigate the threat of conflict. 

Thawing permafrost and erosion is already threatening bases in the Arctic.  NASA estimates that the extent of Arctic sea ice is declining 13.1 percent per decade. For the US military, the bulwark of the Alliance the changes are especially profound. The Congressional Research Service determined that the Department of Defense manages more than 1,700 global military installations on coastlines vulnerable to rises in sea level, drought or wildfires. 

Climate and security is a big lift. The challenge for the new COE will be ‘focus’. Rather than boil the ocean it should concentrate on coming up with practices and innovations enabling our Forces to mitigate their carbon footprint and adapt to our changing climate.