Climate Change at the Canadian Forces College

“How is Canada preparing to address the environmental impacts on security?” That was the question debated in a packed auditorium at the Canadian Forces College (CFC) on 12 February, 2020. The “Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear” Symposium hosted by the Canadian Forces College (Toronto, Canada) was organized by the College’s Department of Innovative Studies and aimed to sensitize participating students, both Canadian and international (to include audiences tuning in from the United Nations, and the Baltic Defence College) on the security implications of climate change. The expert opinions provided by both Canadian and American national security advisors and analysts, to include Center for Climate and Security Fellows Captain Steve Brock and Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett (both US Navy, retired), helped to frame, and imbue an enhanced understanding of, how Canada’s national and human security imperatives fit into the climate change discourse.

According to the Canadian government, “both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming.” Further, the effects of widespread warming are evident in many parts of Canada and are projected to intensify in the future. These effects include more extreme heat, less extreme cold, shorter snow and ice cover seasons, thinning glaciers, and rising sea levels. Further, the Canadian areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans have “experienced longer and more widespread sea-ice-free conditions and large marine areas are projected to have extensive ice-free periods during summer by mid-century.”  These trends pose a host of challenges that will fundamentally alter how the Canadian armed forces plan, train and operate to address domestic crisis scenarios.   

Captain Brock’s key message was that North American military organizations must start to more seriously assess both the short and long-term threats climate change poses to their respective installations’, readiness and operations. Captain Brock, a seasoned senior intelligence officer, shared some representative examples of how failure to plan for climate change effects such as sea level rise resulted in serious degradation of American domestic and overseas facilities, and he implored the Canadians to learn from those experiences. Lieutenant Commander Barrett reminded the audience that melting ice across Canada’s Arctic frontier will create a far more permissive environment for shipping traffic (both commercial and military), which will require the Canadian security forces to be more vigilant of a vast territory that for much of its history was uncontested.

Because of these trends, the Canadian defense department will have to make hard choices not only about force posture, but also about spending priorities since more patrol and surveillance assets will be needed to deter foreign encroachments and other threats to territorial integrity. Oliver also emphasized the worsening plight of Canada’s Caribbean partners, many of whom have been recipients of Canadian development and disaster assistance in the recent past to include airlift support to transport  hundreds of Jamaican troops to the Bahamas to aid in port Hurricane Dorian (2019) recovery efforts. 

By the end of the day, the panelists’ key messages coalesced into a clarion call for the Canadian military to take robust near-term action to address both challenges to critical infrastructure and new demands for military manpower and assets. This call for action are echoed in the findings of a comprehensive report released this week by the “National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel (NSMIP)” of the Center for Climate and Security. The report called for “renewed efforts to prioritize, communicate, and respond to climate security threats, and to integrate these considerations across all security planning.” This also echoes recommendations from the International Military Council on Climate and Security’s “World Climate and Security Report 2020,” which was published by CCS at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month.

The Center for Climate and Security congratulates the Canadian Forces College for its thought leadership in elevating this issue within Canadian military academic circles, and for imbuing the future leadership cadre of the Canadian Armed Forces with critically important knowledge of the security implications of climate change. 

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