Earlier this year, NATO announced it will set up a new NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence (CCASCOE), spearheaded by Global Affairs Canada (Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Department of National Defence (Canadian Ministry of Defence), to be based in Montreal. The COE is linked to NATO’s new Strategic Concept, which is unique, not only in its designation of the Russian Federation as an adversary of NATO, but also in identifying non-traditional threats such as climate change, to the security of the alliance. It also builds upon a Climate Change and Security Action Plan that NATO adopted in 2021.
This could pave the way for a shift in how the alliance engages with climate change. The security dimension of climate change in NATO’s threat environment, operational capabilities, as well as its own contributions to the decarbonisation efforts, are properly acknowledged. This article will discuss what role CCASCOE can play to further NATO’s goals of awareness raising, adapting to developing climate-induced security risks and preparing militaries for a new climate reality.
The aims and focus of CCASCOE
According to NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept, “climate change is a defining challenge of our time, with a profound impact on Allied security.” To support this, NATO’s Climate Change and Security Action Plan focuses on four approaches to meet climate-security challenges:
- Increased awareness of the impact of climate change on security;
- Adaptation of the military to climate change;
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of the military;
- Enhancing NATO’s outreach on this issue.
CCASCOE is expected to cover these issues, but details on its exact focus and prioritisation are still to be confirmed. However, it can be inferred that it will closely mirror NATO’s priorities on the climate and security nexus. Key to CCASCOE’s success will be its ability to leverage existing expertise from think tanks and academia, best practices from member and partner countries, as well as raising awareness and mainstreaming climate-security through key political and military command levels. Another question will be how to cooperate with other centres and training institutes, notably the NATO Centre for Excellence for Energy Security (ENSEC).
Whilst climate-security has gained traction in recent years, there is undoubtedly still apprehension within military circles to adding additional agendas to military strategy and operations, notably with regard to a focus on decarbonisation, which in their minds could possibly undermine operational effectiveness.
This fear often understates the benefits that can come with adapting and mitigating armed forces to the impacts of climate change. So-called ‘Greener’ armed forces could in fact strengthen military capabilities by both improving strategic autonomy, lowering emissions contributions and promoting the development of new technologies which might have civilian applications. CCASCOE’s role would be raising this issue with the highest political and military leaderships levels to help, at the very least, accelerate the appetite in military ranks for this issue.
CCASCOE’s position within the NATO informational framework means that it can act as a hub for raising awareness, to the benefit of climate-proofing defence policies, military doctrines and related issues such as capabilities. In addition to risk assessments (discussed below), CCASCOE could disseminate learnings and promote the vast array of climate-security analyses already in circulation. These include work done by the International Military Council on Climate and Security, SIPRI’s Climate change and Security project, the German-spearhead Weathering Risks project, International Crisis Group and the UK-financed DCAF programme amongst others.
Finally, to continue the mainstreaming process, CCASCOE could also act as a central repository for climate-security best practices adopted by military operations around the world. Whether learning how to set up a Drought Operations Coordination centre from UN peacekeeping operations to electrifying aviation to support a military energy transition, pooling and disseminating best practices is a very effective way CCASCOE can further mainstreaming the climate agenda. An example of climate-security best practices sharing is the Planetary Security Initiative, hosted by the Clingendael Institute.
Adapting allied militaries
Climate change can pose threats to NATO’s operational ability by increasing the risks to infrastructure and environmental impacts on personnel, in addition to making NATO member militaries more responsible for dealing with humanitarian assistance and disaster reduction (HADR). Earlier research by Clingendael has identified the following aspects as particularly vulnerable:
- Military infrastructure and installations;
- Mental and physical health;
- Air conditioning for personnel, computer and technology;
- Fighter jet engine performance
The key to supporting these adaptation efforts, will be in compiling and distributing existing knowledge on how to adapt military installations to more hazardous climate such as increased flooding, or how to ensure the health of troops in environments That experiences reoccurring heatwaves. CCASCOE could carry out research on the vulnerabilities NATO faces, and potential responses. Such research might also be conducted in collaboration with the COE for Military Medicine (MILMED), establishing a pathway of coordination with other COEs is vital to avoid duplication and to enhance synergies.
Such adjustments will depend upon risk assessments that can advise on these changing operational environments. As of 2021-22, NATO has begun to carry out a yearly Climate Change and Security Impact Assessments (CCSIA), which analyses environmental vulnerabilities of NATO assets.
Yet this framework does not provide overall assessments pertaining to the specific and nuanced risks each NATO installation faces. CCASCOE could help bridge this gap by analysing and aggregating the overall risks to each member state’s installations, thus enhancing the efficacy of such assessments. To achieve this, expertise in military risk assessments would need to be acquired, as well as closer feedback relationships with national militaries. An example of how a climate-influenced operational assessment could look like is offered by Deloitte.
In addition, CCASCOE has the potential to shape NATO’s role in responding to climate change induced calls for HADR. With the growing prevalence of extreme weather phenomena like the forest fires in Europe this summer, current HADR architecture is stretched. Thus, militaries are more likely to become first responders in this respect.
With the additional strain placed on resourcing and operations, NATO has responded by creating a Centre of Excellence for Crisis Management and Disaster Response (CMDR). CCASCOE could empower this framework by supporting the integration of insights and best practices on how climate change affects HADR operations, to help improve upon existing international programs and mechanisms, in particular the preparedness of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC).
Mitigation and Decarbonising defence
Within the NATO security apparatus, decarbonisation and the green transition of armed forces has often played second fiddle to emerging security developments. Momentum on projects such as the Green Defence Framework adopted in 2014, which sought to introduce green standards across NATO, faced setbacks due to the Russian invasion of Crimea. CCASCOE has the potential to galvanize NATO into placing greater focus on mitigation efforts despite the organisation lacking the ability to compel allied states to transition.
Utilising the idea of being a knowledge hub, CCASCOE could also help compile and disseminate best practices specifically on military decarbonisation and the energy transition. This might better identify synergies in strategy, R&D and implementation for decarbonisation. By tackling so-called ‘low hanging fruit’, best practices that are already tried and tested would be easier to integrate into allied militaries. This includes pilot testing carbon transformation for military aviation or utilising microgrids to enhance installations energy resilience, a development championed by the US.
Investment in technology is an issue high on NATO’s agenda. The Defence Pledge endorsed in 2014 calls for allies to spend at least 20% of their military budget on Research and Development (R&D). Though most funds are earmarked for other projects, it is reasonable to assume that CCASCOE could play a major role in encouraging partner countries to dedicate further resources to R&D focused on green energy transition.
CCASCOE could complimentarily fill this void by determining common measurement denominators for reporting Scope 1 and 2 emissions. This would also be a helpful driver towards greater transparency in military emissions reporting, with NATO announcing it was developing a methodology to do so. Either CCASCOE should take the lead or work closely with NATO’s Science and Technology Organization (STO).
Moreover, CCASCOE could help innovation in relation to procurement procedures. Military purchases and procurements are strictly a competence of national governments. CCASCOE might leverage its potential as a knowledge hub to reflect best practices from other militaries on green procurement. This would also be a great help for the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), who are currently attempting to lead environmental mainstreaming of procurement amongst alliance members. National governments could potentially seek out CCASCOE on their own initiative to provide added perspective on spending and future areas of saving, as well as developing green procurement guidelines.
Taking advantage of central repositories like CCASCOE might have the added benefit of strengthening the diversity and specialisations of NATO armed forces. CCASCOE’s role would be to coordinate national militaries investments in different aspects of green defence and foster synergies, best utilising available resourcing and skills, whilst avoiding duplications.
A huge task ahead
Centres of Excellence and formalised best practice sharing channels are no guarantee of accelerating climate-sensitivities in militaries. However, CCASCOE can offer a central repository for strategic insights of how climate change impacts NATO’s capabilities and the ability of the alliance to respond to them. By being relatively high level on the strategy side, CCASCOE is unlikely to infringe on other, more implementation-orientated COEs, as well as further formalising NATO’s commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050.
In the coming months, the design of the COE will be further refined by Canada and fellow NATO Allies. It will be interesting to see which partners are brought in and what the focus will be of this ‘new kid’ on the climate-security block. Climate threats are only likely to grow, meaning NATO will need all the help it can get.