Young Leaders to Bring Climate Security Priorities to the NATO Public Forum

By Elsa Barron

On July 11th and 12th, the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), with support from the U.S. Mission to NATO, will bring a delegation of six young leaders to the NATO Public Forum 2023, accompanied by the Center for Climate and Security’s Elsa Barron and IMCCS Secretary General, Sherri Goodman. Pau Alvarez Aragones (Spain), Diana Garlytska (Ukraine/ Lithuania), Marieke Jacobs (Netherlands), Michelle Ramirez (United States), George Tavridis (Greece), and Ytze de Vries (Netherlands) will be in attendance. They represent a group of twelve young leaders who were selected for the IMCCS young leaders network based on their video messages on the theme “Climate Security in My Backyard.”

In an April webinar and workshop, the group was joined by the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith, who shared that young people’s unprecedented mobilization on the issue of climate change illustrates their underlying power to move mountains, or transform seemingly entrenched systems to create positive change. With this as inspiration, the group cultivated innovative ideas based on their experiences with climate security risks at home, as well as potential solutions to this transnational challenge, which they will bring with them to Vilnius.

Climate Security Risks

Workshop participants identified the direct risks of extreme weather, water scarcity, food insecurity (including in marine environments), permafrost thaw, and wildfire on the health and stability of their regions. Without clear and transparent plans to curtail climate change and address these increasingly extreme conditions, participants argued that it is challenging for their generation to feel secure, even in their own homes. 

The group also discussed the compound impacts of increasing temperatures and ecological change, which place additional strains on security. In conditions such as drought and permafrost thaw described above, more communities are facing the painstaking decision to leave home. These decisions can be extremely dangerous, exemplified by casualties along the sea crossing to countries in the northern Mediterranean. Climate change hazards also affect the security of healthcare systems already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, unhealthy air due to wildfire smoke is now a regular summer occurrence in Alaska, making the environment unsafe and straining the healthcare system. 

Finally, the group identified important security risks connected to the response to climate change, particularly related to research and technology. Understanding and addressing climate change in the Arctic has become more complex since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent breakdown of scientific and policy cooperation. Participants also discussed new resource dependencies and unequal access to technology in the midst of the energy transition, which could result in additional internal and international tensions. For example, one participant expressed concerns about increasing political tensions in the Netherlands as farmers protest the perceived effect of emissions cuts on livelihoods rooted in agriculture. 

These climate security risks identified by young leader participants provide insight into why NATO allied citizens rank climate change or extreme weather as one of their top three concerns, even ahead of war, terrorism, and political instability. The NATO Summit and Public Forum in Vilnius should ignite renewed urgency to address these challenges.

Climate Security Solutions

In order to address these challenges, participants brainstormed solutions for NATO policymakers and NATO member states. These solutions included transparent and inclusive governance and adaptation and resilience building. 

Communities affected by climate change want to know what their leaders are doing to address the challenges they face and want decision-makers to listen to their priorities. Arctic representatives emphasized the importance of consultation with local residents (including those in isolated or remote areas) on Arctic climate and security issues. The new NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence in Canada provides one opportunity to expand NATO’s engagement in the Arctic and beyond, and could offer young leaders a seat at the table to help shape NATO’s climate security priorities. Transparency among NATO members and partners on climate security practice is common sense as nations address novel transboundary climate challenges. So is engagement with young allied citizens on issues that concern their future security. 

Participants also expressed a desire to see more foresight and preparation devoted to climate adaptation, particularly related to disaster risk reduction and recovery. Disaster response is a point of connectivity for NATO member states. One participant noted that Albania relies on air support from Greece to combat wildfires and multiple countries in the region have received support from NATO allies to fight fires. To help secure their future, young leaders want to see more forward planning and transparency on how NATO will respond to disasters in its member states as the frequency and intensity of these events increases. Within this conversation, participants particularly emphasized the importance of building resilience for everyone according to a justice framework – including those who may be geographically isolated or politically marginalized. 

The IMCCS young leaders delegation will bring these ideas and more to the 2023 NATO Public Forum in Vilnius. NATO has expanded its efforts to engage the next generation of thinkers and changemakers through efforts such as the NATO 2030 Young Leaders program, and they must continue to do so. In Vilnius, they have the opportunity to gain young leaders’ insights and bolster the alliance’s commitment to inclusive peace and security in a climate-changed world. 

For more information about this project:

Watch the webinar “Climate Security in NATO’s Backyard.”

Watch the project featured onstage at the 2023 NATO Youth Summit.

Visit the project homepage

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