17 March 2020
  • climate security
  • Military
  • climate change
  • Climate Risk

Ready for take-off? Military responses to climate change

Militaries around the world are more aware about the potential impact of climate change on security. The unprecedented increase in natural disasters worldwide is a potent reminder of climate change as a risk multiplier. This makes global climate change an issue of national and international security, and thus the military.

This new report by the Clingendael Institute highlights how military organisations (could) respond to climate change. The report reviews the (possible) security risks associated with climate change on armed forces, and how these forces predict, prepare, operate and contribute to climate change. For this purpose, the authors made an analysis of the efforts of ministries of defence of 11 countries. They considered more specifically the role the Netherlands Ministry of Defence could play in predicting, preparing and contributing to climate change impact and policies. The research conducted for this report was also used for the first edition of the World Climate Security Report

The report demonstrates that the capabilities of military organisations are at higher risk due to climate change. The higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather events adds and additional burden on armed forces and their assets, which undermines their capacity to carry out vital missions.

Looking at the measures taken by the 11 countries, the report indicates that the strategy adopted by France is the most advanced, followed by New Zealand who integrated climate change in its new defence plan. The UK, Finland and Canada are making noticeable progress as well, while the US is falling behind after withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. Jordan’s army is contributing to peacebuilding efforts by fighting desertification.

The study review countries efforts on greenification of the armed forces:

In general appetite among military organisations to address climate change seems to be growing. They seem ready for take-off to make their contribution to one of the greatest challenges of our time.

France launched a Sustainable Defence Strategy in 2016, defining several challenges and related goals for the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

The UK has a Sustainable MoD Strategy, which directs the concrete measures taken; energy reduction takes a prominent place.

Norway has taken minimal action in making the armed forces greener. There is one green compound (energy production based on biomass fuel).

Finland has a national target of heating all government buildings without using fossil fuels by 2025. The Ministry of Defence is bound to realise this target for all its buildings. 

Sweden The Defence Material Administration (FMV) is working on reducing energy for military infrastructure, which accounts for about one-third of the Swedish armed forces’ fuel consumption.

Australia is reducing fossil fuel consumption by the armed forces and infrastructure – the latter in particular by equipping buildings with solar panels.

New Zealand The Ministry of Defence is committed to establishing a method of measuring carbon emissions. When its emission profile is completed, the Defence aims to aid and assist emission reduction initiatives. 

Canada is ‘greening’ its defence infrastructure and its commercial vehicles. Officially, the Ministry of Defence is exempted from national greenhouse emission targets, but as of autumn 2019 it has begun to publish its fleet emissions.

The US armed forces are attempting to reduce the carbon footprint, despite the country stepping out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The US Navy, for example, has introduced a green programme to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.  

The Jordanian armed forces have been planting of 250,000 trees in the country and 2.5 million trees in military camps across the country to prevent desertification.

The report makes the following recommendations

  • Climate change directly leads to more calls for military assistance at home, and sea-level rise can endanger military installations and bases.
  • Climate change can be a threat multiplier in countries outside the European continent and lead to more calls for domestic assistance
  • Climate change is already included in some early warning and risk assessment systems, but more could be done to assess it with regard to potential crises and in the operational planning of operations
  • In the planning and execution of operations, the military should focus more on how interventions on natural resource management, climate adaptation and provision of renewables could help to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of local populations and reduce tensions among groups at conflict.

Read the full report here

Photocredit: The National Guard/Flickr