NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry in March 2021. (NATO)

NATO Cracks Down on ‘Threat Multiplier’ Climate Change

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has said its members have pledged to “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from military activities” adding that “the security environment we face is increasingly complex”.

Throughout its history, NATO has continuously adapted to a changing security environment, and the organization now lists climate change alongside more traditional security concerns such as weapons of mass destruction, conflict in Syria, cyber threats, and Russian military activities.

A statement by the heads of state and government of 30 NATO allies, issued on June 14, said climate change is a “threat multiplier that impacts Alliance security” and that “NATO intends to become the leading international organization when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security”.  

The organization has pledged to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and installations without impairing personnel safety, operational effectiveness and its deterrence and defense posture. The Secretary General has been charged with formulating a realistic, ambitious and concrete target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the NATO political and military structures and facilities and assess the feasibility of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. NATO members will also initiate a regular high-level climate and security dialogue to exchange views and coordinate further action.

NATO acknowledges that climate change puts resilience and civil preparedness to the test, affects the planning and the resilience of its military installations and critical infrastructure, and may create harsher conditions for its operations. Consequently, its new Climate Change and Security Action Plan aims to increase the organization’s awareness, adaptation, mitigation, and outreach efforts.

To increase awareness, NATO will conduct annual assessments of the impact of climate change on its strategic environment as well as on missions and operations. To adapt to climate change, NATO will incorporate climate change considerations into its full spectrum of work, ranging from defense planning and capability development to civil preparedness and exercises. To contribute to the mitigation of climate change, drawing on best practices of Allies, and taking into account their different national circumstances, NATO will develop a mapping methodology to help Allies measure greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and installations, which could contribute to formulating voluntary goals to reduce such emissions. NATO will also strengthen exchanges with partner countries as well as with international and regional organizations that are active on climate change and security issues.

Climate implications such as drought, soil erosion and marine environmental degradation can lead to famine, floods, loss of land and livelihood, and have a disproportionate impact on women and girls as well as on poor, vulnerable or marginalized populations, as well as potentially exacerbate state fragility, fuel conflicts, and lead to displacement, migration, and human mobility, creating conditions that can be exploited by state and non-state actors.

It is unfortunate that for too long climate change has not been seen as a  serious security issue. Misunderstanding or even reluctance to join the dots between the impacts of climate degradation to conflict, migration and instability as well as food and water insecurity and energy infrastructure resilience has already caused harm. But those dots are now being joined and NATO, along with others who recognize the security implications of climate change, is to be applauded for stepping up its efforts. We must hope that as the saying goes, it is never too late to correct our mistakes.

NATO’s Climate Change and Security Progress Report will be delivered at its 2022 Summit.

Read the Climate Change and Security Action Plan at NATO

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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