This April, the French Ministry for the Armed Forces released its Climate & Defence Strategy. The strategy closely followed the release of the EU’s Strategic Compass in March which set a demand to EU’s member states to elaborate national climate and defense strategies prior to 2024. France’s Climate & Defence strategy is thus the first of many European climate and defense strategies to follow. The document recommends four main areas of action for the Ministry of the Armed Forces: developing knowledge and foresight, engaging in adaptation, pursuing mitigation, and increasing cooperation.
Elsa Barron, Research Fellow at the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) spoke with Dr. Nicolas Regaud, Senior Advisor for Climate to the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, who guided the task force in developing this strategy.
Elsa Barron: What are some of the most significant climate security threats that France is facing and what is required from the military in order to adapt to climate impacts?
Dr. Nicolas Regaud: Climate change presents many challenges for France, both on the mainland and overseas. Our Ministry is facing the full spectrum of extreme climate events, from flooding to drought to cyclones. Involved on every continent, we are engaged in various theaters– from the Arctic to the Sahel and the Indo-Pacific– that are experiencing new environmental operating constraints that are directly linked to climate change. In order to respond to these new conditions, adaptation is required.
Climate adaptation also means increased involvement in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations in France and abroad. We have a particular responsibility in regions such as the Caribbean, Indian, and Pacific oceans as they are vulnerable to climate impacts and are areas where France has capacities to respond to disasters when many other nations do not. France’s permanent position in the UN Security Council gives us another source of responsibility to respond to climate risks. This is particularly important given the potential that climate change has to exacerbate internal country and regional tensions.
Finally, climate adaptation surrounding infrastructure resilience is costly and takes time. We have elaborated and tested a methodology to investigate infrastructure vulnerabilities and now it is important to implement it. The earlier we engage, the better.
Elsa Barron: The Climate & Defence strategy points out that the French Ministry for the Armed Forces has been committed to green defense for the last 15 years. Over that period, what best practices have emerged around climate mitigation and adaptation?
Dr. Nicolas Regaud: France’s military real estate is very large– spanning approximately 2,750 square kilometers. We have a large domain to protect, and conscious environmental protection is necessary for a multiplicity of reasons. As public actors, the Ministry has a commitment to responsibly manage its resources. It is also important to preserve these environments as a method of carbon sequestration. Currently, a plan is underway to measure the capability of military real estate to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change and its associated risks. There is also an action plan in place to preserve biodiversity on these lands, which is linked to climate change. All of these efforts contribute to saving the only planet we have.
Another area of development over the past fifteen years has surrounded the Ministry’s energy consumption, which is divided into two categories: infrastructure and operations. Energy consumed by infrastructure represents around 25% of global energy consumption and operations (land, sea, air, etc) represent the other 75% of energy use. In the infrastructure category, the Ministry has seen success over the past fifteen years in renovations and energy transformations to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2010, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 33% in the infrastructure sector. Our next objective is to reach 50% emissions reduction by 2030. Our success demonstrates that we know how to proceed to reduce energy consumption– the technology is there. We just need to engage more deeply in the transition.
Greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the operations category remain a challenge. Moving forward, we need to invest in innovation, research, and development. Currently, the Ministry is engaged in several energy projects, including the development of hybrid tactical vehicles, with results forthcoming in three years. These projects are not only a process of reducing our carbon footprint or dependency on fossil fuels, but also a way to improve our resilience and operational advantages.
Elsa Barron: The strategy emphasizes inter ministerial consultation and collaboration. What steps are required to move from plans to action in implementing cross-sectoral climate security solutions?
Dr. Nicolas Regaud: In addressing the security risks presented by climate change, we cannot act alone and it is important for climate experts to contribute to the work of other departments. In 2007, France launched a governmental action plan, “le Grenelle de l’Environment,” in favor of the protection of the environment. The plan required that each government ministry have a designated representative for sustainable development. At the Ministry for the Armed Forces, this high civil servant is in charge of implementing a big part of the Ministry’s green defense work. When it comes to climate change, which is an even larger challenge, we have to establish links on these matters with other departments such as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, the Ministry for Overseas France, and others. In building these partnerships, it is important to communicate our mission and strategy and find synergies where we can collaborate and receive support from other Ministries.
It is also important to galvanize support in other areas like science, research, and the private sector. In the realm of science, Météo-France, our meteorological service, is critical for supporting climate change modeling. They could help us develop risk mapping. We also engage with NGOs and think tanks. For example, since 2016 we have worked with the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), an IMCCS Consortium Member, in order to manage an observatory on defense and climate change. It is important for us to support research across a diversity of fields to understand the impact of climate change on countries, their societies, and international tensions. Our approach to this research is to start with knowledge and anticipation and then translate that information into more efficient adaptation. We also have the ambition to collaborate with the private sector, which is innovative in many ways, not just in the area of green technology but also in climate adaptation. It is important for us to work hand in hand toward a common goal.
Within the Ministry for the Armed Forces, we are continuing to break down silos. Actors engaged in adaptation need to know each other better and share their experiences. We will build up, progressively, a common knowledge base and a common memory in order to help all actors work together more efficiently. The next step is to cooperate with actors outside of the Ministry, and finally, to collaborate with other governments internationally.
Elsa Barron: How does this strategy relate to larger EU and NATO conversations about climate change and security? How can nations boost international cooperation on these shared challenges?
Dr. Nicolas Regaud: NATO and the EU have both released significant climate planning documents over the past year. NATO released their Climate Change and Security Action Plan in June 2021 and the EU released a Climate Change and Defence Roadmap in November 2020. We were the first in the EU to develop a specific climate strategy, but we know that many additional strategies will follow. These strategies will help to establish and fuel cooperation at every level including operations, doctrine, education, and more. The planned NATO Climate Change and Security Center of Excellence will also be an important driver of collaboration by providing a place to share experience and establish best practices. France is looking forward to playing its part in this Center’s work.
In addition to these international frameworks, France has found success in mobilizing international collaborations through conferences and joint studies around the challenges of climate change and security. One such joint study focused on the implication of climate change on defense in the South Pacific across three different domains– maritime security, infrastructure resilience, and HADR operations. France conducted this study with its partners of the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM) and the recommendations were approved directly by the respective national ministers in 2019. There is now a task force to implement the measures developed. This successful process provides a model for fostering international cooperation in understanding and responding to climate security challenges. Last November at the Paris Peace Forum, France initiated a joint ministerial declaration and roadmap called “Climate Change and the Armed Forces,” joined by 26 countries, including 19 European countries, the US, Canada, and Japan. It is important to continue fostering international cooperation between armed forces across the world in order to cope with such a major challenge as climate change.