Climate change has never been very prominent at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), a leading forum for senior military, security and foreign policy leaders. That changed this year, with the release of the “World Climate and Security Report 2020” by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS). The report featured prominently on the MSC stage – at the opening “Hashtag Event” on February 13 and in a later event on the Main Stage on February 15 – which even featured strong U.S. bipartisan support for comprehensive policies combating climate change. These events included powerful contributions from General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, and former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands. These were reinforced by other IMCCS voices during the World Climate and Security Report 2020 side event on February 15, in the media, and by senior defense leaders and IMCCS staff in Luxembourg. Below is a description of the key climate security events during this extraordinary three days – three days of climate change being elevated, as it should be, to some of the highest levels of the international security discourse. The next step will be translating this discourse into actions that are commensurate to the threat.
On the eve of the MSC’s main conference, an opening “Hashtag Event” was held on climate change and security, titled “Apocalypse Now? Climate and Security.” See the full video below. At the event, retired General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, announced the release of the World Climate and Security Report 2020. The event featured senior international leaders, including John Kerry (former U.S. Secretary of State), Ban Ki-moon (Former Secretary General of the UN), Helga Maria Schmid (Secretary General, European External Action Service), General (Ret) Tom Middendorp (Chair, International Military Council on Climate and Security, former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands), and Edith Kimani, News Anchor at Deutsche Welle.
The panel video above is worth watching in full, but for those particularly interested in General Middendorp‘s contributions, we have transcribed those below:
43:42: General Middendorp: “…I come from a different angle. I’m not a politician. I don’t work on the world level. I come from the field. I’ve been in the military for forty years of my life. I’ve seen many conflicts. I’ve been in the Cold War period, and I’ve been in many crisis areas. And I represent a new voice at this table, and that’s the voice of the Generals, the Admirals and security experts. And what I see now is a movement. They are linking up with each other. The network that we are building – the IMCCS network that I represent – is a network of many experts, senior military and civilian. And they link up because of one concern. And that concern is the future of this planet, and that concern is about the impact of climate change. That brings them together. They have seen what climate change can do. They have seen, in conflicts, that water shortages create tensions in populations. They have seen that droughts push people away from their homelands and from their farmlands, and forces those people into the cities, into refugee camps, or into the hands of extremists. They have seen the impacts of natural disasters wiping away complete islands, destroying all the infrastructure. And they see the impact of the Arctic melting away and opening up a new geopolitical arena – and they are concerned. So for this group, climate change is a matter of global security. And I see more and more of these voices within the military and the security community coming up.
And what we did is we organized this network and we created the first annual World Climate and Security Report. And we looked at the different regions in the world and assessed “How does climate change impact security in these regions?”
What they see, for instance in the Indo-Asian region, is there is an increased risk of flooding. There is a lot of population, mega-cities, tens of millions of people living in cities along rivers, on coastlines, threatened by flooding and by sea level rise. We see glaciers melting, and the melting of glaciers threatens the availability of drinking water for hundreds of millions of people. So you can imagine the impact that that will have also on security. In the Americas, we see many increasing severe and extreme weather incidents. Wildfires, flooding, hurricanes – especially in the northern part of there – but we also see in the central and southern part of the Americas, we see fragility coming up more because of shortages of water. And Africa is, of course, to me Africa is the canary in the coalmine. Africa is what we are going to see wider in the world. In Africa, the droughts are exactly doing what I just described. They are pushing people away from the farmlands. They are pushing the herders, the farmers away into other areas. And that brings flows of people, and that also opens opportunities for other groupings like organized crime that do a lot of trafficking through those areas, and for extremist groups. So we are very concerned about this. And also concerned about the geopolitical impact. Because the Arctic area melting away opens up a new arena for geopolitical conflict. There are a lot of resources there in the ground, and we are already witnessing a run on resources there.”
1:15:24: General Middendorp: “I think what we understand from this discussion is a great call for action. I think we all agree on that. It’s that we are facing a whole-of-society problem. And I think the military and the security community should be part of the solution. And I think there is a lot that they can do. They can do a lot in a preventive way. They can help in early warning. We’ve got great intelligence services looking at the same fragile countries that we are looking at from a climate angle, so why not link them up, and why not join those massive efforts that are being done there to come to a better understanding of what is going on?
I think that the military can help be a platform for innovation. Many of the innovations that Secretary Kerry just mentioned are also being incorporated in the military. And they have a history of being innovative and adaptive, so why not use them – why not use that strength to build new technologies? To help develop new technologies? I think they can bring that too. But most of all we need to ‘climate-proof’ our policies, our plans and our capabilities. And that’s internally: climate-proof so that we can work in new climate environments – but also towards fragile countries. So all the efforts we put into fragile countries – look at those efforts through climate eyes. And make sure that those plans contribute to solving the problem – contribute to building resilience in those countries. And also the military can work there. We have learned over the last ten years to work more closely together with the development people, with the diplomats, to come to more comprehensive approaches, and to work on that together. And this climate-proofing is what we all need to do in all the stovepipes. All the agencies, all departments need to look at their plans through the eyes of climate, and what can I contribute to solving the problem. And last but not least, I think that in the military we should use climate knowledge more in our training and our education to make people more aware. And I think there the military can help. They bring a professional voice to the table – a not political voice. So they can help build this awareness, they can building this understanding, and this sense of urgency.”
1:38:43: General Middendorp: “Well, I think they (big tech companies and the military) can be a driver of change. They have a major role to play. As I said, it’s a whole-of-society problem, so we need the companies, we need the tech companies, to step into this to start making the change. And I see big chemical companies already making a change towards more circular production of their products. And I think these industries can drive that change. And I also think that the military and the UN and NATO they should lead by example also in military operations. I’ve been in Mali, and it’s a big UN operation. The first thing we do there, we build a super-camp. The first thing we do in that super-camp is we drill holes in the ground to extract groundwater. And what happens? The villages in the neighborhood run dry. So that’s the impact that we have in this moment. The biggest fossil fuel consumer in any country is the military. So we have a responsibility to take. And I think it’s a giant opportunity for the military to work together with these kind of companies to develop these new technologies. The biggest cost-driver in any mission is logistics. The biggest risk factor in any mission is logistics. If you can become more self-sustaining in your operations you can reduce that risk, you can reduce those costs, and you can put your money where it belongs, and that is bringing stability. So I think there is a lot to gain here. You can contribute to emissions reductions, and at the same time improve your operational effectiveness by finding these kinds of combinations.”
1:56:13: General Middendorp: “We have one open question. You asked about ‘Why do we need a military?’ And ‘Can’t we put that money that we pay to the military – can’t we put that to these kinds of efforts?’ And I wish that was true. To be honest, I would sacrifice my life for a world where we wouldn’t need a military. I have been in many conflicts, and I have seen the price of conflicts. And I would give my hand if we can avoid conflicts. So the more we can make our ourselves abundant, the better it is to me. But in reality, there is friction. And especially in fragile states when security levels and security institutions are poor, you see that friction easily flame up into conflicts. And climate is accelerating that. And that’s why we need the military. I think the military is needed to help build that resilience that we are looking for, also in regard to climate change. If I look at all the missions that I have done, 90% or more were preventive in nature. It was just to safeguard a situation from not escalating. Make sure that parties stayed put and they didn’t go to fight. And that’s what the military can bring. Because if you look at the impacts of climate change, we see more scarcity. And scarcity is a source of friction and conflict. And I think the military needs to help to make sure that we become more resilient to deal with these kinds of challenges.”
On February 14, the IMCCS team – including General Tom Middendorp, Captain Steve Brock, USN (Ret), Chief of Staff of the IMCCS, and Kate Guy, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and the IMCCS – was invited to Luxembourg by the country’s Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, François Bausch, to brief the Luxembourg press and three parliamentary committees on the security risks of climate change, and the findings of the World Climate and Security Report 2020. The Luxembourg government is working to raise the prioritization of climate security within EU and NATO institutions, and plans to use the findings of the Report to further communicate around these issues.
These engagements led to a number of news stories, including television and print interviews, in the national press. The day also included interviews with the Secretary General of the IMCCS, the Honorable Sherri Goodman, and the Chair of the IMCCS, General Tom Middendorp. See below for the highlights.
Pit Everling, “Climate change has impacted defence and security sectors,” February 15, 2020
BBC World News
Interview with General (Ret) Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, “World Climate and Security Report 2020,” February 14, 2020
Interview with the Honorable Sherri Goodman, Secretary General of the IMCCS, “Climate risks to global security – report says global security needs ‘climate-proofing,’” February 14, 2020
Alistair Bunkall, “Climate change will be ‘catastrophic’ in 20 years with risks to global security – report,” February 13, 2020
On the third day of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), the IMCCS Leadership and senior Participants from the IMCCS, brought lessons from the World Climate and Security Report 2020 to key audiences. IMCCS members began the day at a private breakfast attended by senior members of the U.S. policymaking community, presenting the report’s findings and strategizing on issues of climate security in a U.S. context.
Then, the report was publicly presented at a side event organized by the IMCCS, and on the Main Stage of the MSC, alongside a bipartisan duo of senior U.S. policy-makers (Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse) and the current head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Patricia Espinosa Cantellano).
IMCCS Side Event: World Climate and Security Report 2020
The IMCCS held an MSC Side Event on The World Climate and Security Report 2020 on February 15. The panelists included General Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS; Captain Steve Brock, USN (Ret), Chief of Staff of the IMCCS; Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to the African Union; U.S. Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, U.S. House of Representatives; Benedetta Alberti-Berti, Head of Policy Planning, NATO; and U.S. Congressman Jason Crow. The discussion centered on the key elements of the report, including the key findings – including both risks and opportunities:
KEY RISKS: Significant or higher risks to global security under current circumstances
- Water insecurity a global security risk: Climate change-exacerbated water insecurity is already a significant driver of instability, and according to 93% of climate security and military experts surveyed for this report, will pose a significant or higher risk to global security by 2030.
- All regions facing increase in climate security risks (not just fragile/poor): Though fragile regions of the world are facing the most severe and catastrophic security consequences of climate change, all regions are facing significant or higher security risks due to the global nature of the risks. For example, 86% of climate security and military experts surveyed for this report perceive climate change effects on conflict within nations to present a significant or higher risk to global security in the next two decades.
- Military institutions are increasingly concerned about climate risks: As reinforced by the 31 nations represented in the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), an increasing number of national, regional and international security and military institutions are concerned about, and planning for, climate change risks to military infrastructure, force readiness, military operations, and the broader security environment.
- Climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience efforts are increasingly urgent to avert the significant security consequences of climate change, yet some proposed solutions such as geoengineering could present negative second-order effects to global security, if not implemented carefully.
- Rising authoritarianism, sharpened global competition and national agendas are hampering the needed cooperation among nations to address the security risks of climate change.
KEY OPPORTUNITIES: A path forward for global security cooperation on climate change
- National, regional, and international security institutions and militaries around the world should advance robust climate resilience strategies, plans and investments, especially regarding climate implications for water and food security and their associated effects on stability, conflict and displacement, in their primary mission sets or lines of effort.
- Security and military institutions should demonstrate leadership on climate security risks and resilience and encourage governments to advance comprehensive emissions reductions and adaptation investments to avoid those security disruptions. Military organizations can also lead by example through taking advantage of the significant opportunities to adopt lower carbon energy sources, and make progress on other greenhouse gases beyond carbon dioxide.
- Climate-proofing development assistance for vulnerable nations which are likely hotspots of instability and conflict, as well as climate-proofing other policies affecting those regions, should be a priority for conflict prevention. Assistance should be aimed at climate resilience challenges such as water security, food security, and disaster preparedness.
- The international community should embrace a Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent framework, given unprecedented foresight capabilities regarding the unprecedented risks of climate change. This includes ensuring all levels of government and civil society, including all national, regional and international security institutions, are prepared for the security implications of climate change.
- Security institutions around the globe should integrate climate knowledge and training into institutional frameworks to ensure that knowledge and understanding of climate change threats permeates the organizational culture. For example, climate security curricula should be added to national and regional training and defense colleges, professional military education, and climate security should receive significant treatment in international security and military fora.
To an Uncertain Degree: Climate and Security, Munich Security Conference 2020
On the main stage of the MSC on February 15, a second major climate and security event was held titled “To an Uncertain Degree: Climate and Security.” See the full video below. At the event, retired General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, discussed the details and potential impact of the World Climate and Security Report 2020, including the risks and recommendations contained therein. The event also featured senior NGO, business, U.S. and international leaders, including Jennifer Morgan (GPI); Kent Walker (Senior Vice President Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, Google); Patricia Espinosa Cantellano (Ambassador; Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change); Lindsey O. Graham (Senator, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, United States of America); General (Ret) Tom Middendorp (Chair, International Military Council on Climate and Security; Former Chief of Defence of the Armed Forces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands); Sheldon Whitehouse (Senator, Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States of America); and Melinda Crane-Röhrs (Chief Political Correspondent, Deutsche Welle).
The panel is worth watching in full, but we have included a transcript of General Middendorp‘s interventions below:
20:29: General Middendorp: “To be honest, the biggest threat is us…not dealing with the threat. But looking at the content, we just produced a report looking at all the threats all over the world – how climate change impacts that – and 93% of the security experts that were involved see water stress as the biggest problem that we are facing. Water is becoming scarcer and scarcer. Meanwhile the population is increasing this century with another 60%. So, 3-4 billion people are added to what we already have, only increasing the demand on water. So water stress – shortage of water – is a big problem. But also floods. Because we see precipitation patterns changing and it’s threatening large parts of the world. We have mega-cities – 70% of all the people live in coastal areas and on river beds in urbanized areas. And these are threatened by these floods. So just imagine the impact (on security) this will have.”
21:56: General Middendorp: “It (an ISAF Task Force in Afghanistan I commanded) was an eye-opener. I was commanding there, and we had a district center that was flooded with Taliban. And they blocked all progress in the province, and we had to deal with that. We had days of harsh fighting in that village to clear it from the Taliban. In the end we succeeded, but we didn’t solve the problem. And it took us a few months to find out what the real problem was. And the real problem that caused all the tensions in that village, which was utilized by the Taliban, was a dispute over the division of water. Ah well, in the Netherlands we are water managers, so we flew in some civil experts and they negotiated a solution with the local elders. And from that moment on all the tensions were gone. The Taliban couldn’t regain control any more. And one year later, I was able to walk down the main street of that village with our current King (of the Netherlands), with very limited protection. And to me that showed what the impact can be – this is on a small scale – what the impact can be of climate change. It also showed to me how strong we can be if we can combine military and civil efforts in a comprehensive approach.”
26:44: General Middendorp: “It’s one of the main areas we focus on in the report (the Arctic). What we see happening is that the Arctic is melting in record tempo. And we have to adapt all our foresights every year because it’s moving faster and faster and faster. And it’s not just creating a new ocean. It’s also creating a new geopolitical arena. We see a new area opening up with a lot of natural resources in it, and already we see countries trying to put flags in the ground and trying to claim those resources. So that is a potential future threat. A new geopolitical arena with new frictions, and I think organizations like NATO, the EU should refocus their strategies and see how they deal with that.”
52:14: General Middendorp: “I think it’s not just Jennifer (Morgan) and Greta (Thunberg) from Sweden who are ringing the alarm bells. It’s increasingly also General, Admirals and high-level security experts who are ringing that same bell. And they are connecting. Within half a year, we now have experts from over 32 countries from every continent of the world uniting in one network because they are concerned about what is happening here, and they feel guilty that they have to leave such a world to their children. And they want to do something about it. And they are very concerned because they have seen the impact. They have seen the impact of water stress – how that creates tensions. They have seen the impact of droughts – how that drives people away from their homelands, causes migrations. Drives them into the hands of extremists. So, they are very, very concerned about this, and that’s why they want to pick this up. And that’s also why people expect Jennifer and I to kind of collide. We come from two different worlds, but we are united in this. We are two sides of the same coin, and I hope we can join efforts together because that’s exactly what is needed. In all the domestic discussions, I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the immensity of the problem that we are facing. I come from a country – a small country – that is below the sea level to a large extent. We have been fighting all kinds of wars during our history, but the biggest war was our war against the sea. Half of our population lives below the sea level, so you can imagine what sea level rise means for a country like mine. But not only my country. Many countries in the world – this is an existential threat, and we need to deal with it that way. And after the Second World War, we had major flooding in the Netherlands driving tens of thousands of people away from their homes, and killing people. And the government then was facing a severe economic crisis, had to rebuild the country after a world war, and it was very tempting to do some patchwork and fix the dykes. But they took a wise decision. They said ‘No, we are not gonna do that. We are gonna invest much more money into a future-proof system. We are gonna invest in innovation and find new solutions to protect our country, to protect our people against this new threat. And that’s the kind of leadership that we need.”
59:33: General Middendorp: “I just want to add that I think the military can be of help here. They can bring an impartial voice to the table, a voice that is not political, a voice that is not domestic, and a voice that has a certain authority. They can look from their professional perspective at what the impact is of this thing, and I think when they can help make the people feel that there is something at stake here that hurts them, then that can help this discussion. And I know the U.S. military is quite advanced at that. They have been warning about this for 12 years. It was in the intelligence reports 12 years ago, and I know the Pentagon has made all kinds of plans to deal with this. And are still making plans, and also doing it – building resilience in their bases, etc. So on the executive level, they are working on this. But we need to raise it to the political level.”
1:16:24: General Middendorp: “About responsibility. We have in the security community – we are facing major threats – hybrid threats, cyber threats, you name them. And most of these threats are very hard to predict. We have massive intelligence institutions trying to predict – trying to give us early warning on those threats. In this case, we know what’s coming. We know in much detail what will happen in the next 10-20 years when we see the effects of climate change. So that gives us a head start. And as a military professional I know what the price can be if you do not act on actionable information. So in this case I think we have a responsibility to act, and we can all be held accountable if we do not do that. So I can only support you in your call to take responsibility.”
1:21:29: General Middendorp: “I think – and that’s one of the main findings in this report that we published this week – we need to climate-proof our policies and our programs. Meaning that all the programs that we have, also towards fragile states – look at those programs through the glasses of the root cause of climate change. And look at what does this program contribute to addressing that root cause. And maybe we should refocus all our plans and programs. And it’s not just on the development side, it’s not just on defense – this is a whole of government issue. So through all channels you have to build new criteria in that we climate-proof our policies. But also our infrastructure, and also the way we train and operate.”
1:24:30: General Middendorp: “I think these voices (young people) are very helpful. It’s good to have non-political voices bring the message. At the same time, I think we should not shift the problem to them. It’s a bit shameful that they have to do this. We should pick up our responsibility and fix this.”
Stoking the Fire: Conflict and the Climate Crisis
Also on February 15, General Middendorp attended a luncheon event hosted by the Robert Bosch Stiftung titled “Stoking the Fire: Conflict and the Climate Crisis.” The luncheon featured Almut Wieland-Karimi, Executive Director od the Center for International Peace Operations; Robert Malley, President of the International Crisis Group; Hussein Alfa (Seyni) Nafo, Spokesperson, African Group of Negotiators and Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Mali, and General (Ret) Tom Middendorp, Chair of International Military Council on Climate and Security. For a full description of the discussion (only in German at the moment) click here.
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