Just and Comprehensive Action on Climate Security in Australia and Beyond: An Interview with Cheryl Durrant

By Elsa Barron

The Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG), a partner of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), is working to reframe the climate debate in Australia to address the multifaceted security risks posed by climate change. The group recently released its second report, an Australian Climate and Security Risk Assessment Implementation Proposal. I spoke with Cheryl Durrant, an executive member of the ASLCG and former Director of Preparedness & Mobilization at the Australian Department of Defense, about this report and the path towards just and comprehensive action on climate security risks for Australia and beyond.

Elsa Barron: How did you initially become concerned about the intersection between climate change and security challenges? How did that concern evolve over the course of your career and ultimately lead to the creation of the ASLCG?

Cheryl Durrant: Curiously, I am a military historian and I first understood the relationship between climate and security when I was studying the collapse of middle-American civilizations, which was partly an environmental collapse. That was my start, but I really became aware of the urgency and extremity of the current climate change crisis in 2012 when I commissioned a piece of work from our [The Australian] Defense Science and Technology Group on global change. From all of the global challenges presented in the report, climate change leapt out as different from the others in three ways: pervasiveness, probability, and scale. Climate change was happening everywhere, it was almost certain, and it had the potential to destroy civilizations and cause probable extinction if left unchecked. 

Barron: I’m curious, in addition to your own journey and interest, how have you seen the security community approach the connection between climate change?

Durrant: I think there are two strands to it. One is based on the ground. When we started going out and talking about climate change at international conferences and with other militaries, we constantly heard the same story: that the soldiers have already grasped this concept from the ground up. They are in the same training range every year and the landscape is changing. Soldiers and sailors are some of the most profound supporters of this work because they are in it every day. 

Then there is the second strand which is a more theoretical analysis of climate change as a geopolitical security challenge. This issue poses a dilemma for security professionals because it is a problem that is without boundaries. It doesn’t follow standard geopolitical thinking. You can’t think of it as a traditional enemy, because you contribute to it as well. You can’t fight yourself because you’re putting carbon in the atmosphere. 

Barron: Last year, ASLCG published its inaugural report titled, “Missing in Action: Responding to Australia’s Climate & Security Failure.” What has guided the progression from that report to the release of your most recent, solutions-oriented report, “Australian Climate & Security Risk Assessment?”

Durrant: If you see action on climate change as a campaign, which is a framing we are used to in the military, then the first step of that campaign is to get the government and the people of Australia to connect climate change to security. Then, they can recognize that action is needed and take steps towards that action. The ASLCG has been in the raising awareness step. Now we’ve largely accomplished the goal of that first step: the current government has adopted our policy suggestion of integrating a climate risk assessment. Now, we are in the second phase of the campaign which is moving from awareness to understanding and action.

When I started seriously looking into this problem in 2012, the general thinking was that we weren’t going to see catastrophic climate security impacts until 2100 or later. By 2015, we were concerned that we might see those catastrophic effects by mid-century. Now, we are seeing catastrophic effects for some parts of the planet already – horrific events this summer in Europe, Africa, South Asia, Australia, and North America. The time horizon we have to take action is really very short.

With our most recent report, we are recommending a broad risk assessment because that is a way to engage not only government, but also business, think tanks, and the general community to understand we are in a crisis mode. Unless everyone understands we are in crisis mode, then people aren’t prepared to make the sacrifices that a crisis mode entails. The response to the climate crisis will not be a smooth path, it will be a bumpy path and we need a mindset change to understand how urgent, how large, and how globally interconnected the climate risks that we face really are. 

Barron: ASLCG’s report argues that existential risks must be treated differently in policy-making than standard risks. How does this apply to climate security risks? Are there examples of low-probability yet high-impact risks that should be given more attention?

Durrant: From my perspective, there are probably two major existential risks we should be thinking about and they’re interconnected. Existential risk indicates the possibility of civilization collapse or human extinction. This kind of risk is not really comparable to something like an economic decline of 10 percent; it’s an entirely different scale and you really have to get your head around the gravity of that difference. 

The two risks that I elevate to this level are climate change and nuclear conflict. These carry the potential to cause human extinction or civilization collapse to such an extent that it might never come back again. They’re also connected because climate change escalates the risk of conflict and the fear of nuclear war is putting a break on some of the international cooperation we want to see around climate change. These two risks are now circling and exacerbating each other. There is a whole range of other existential risks like super volcano eruptions or solar events, but humanity has less capacity to control those risks. Let’s focus on the two that we can act on.

Barron: How do you communicate this level of risk? You mentioned that communication is often focused on hope because it is more empowering to people, so how do you really communicate the scale of risk in a way that is effective at galvanizing action?

Durrant: Risk is best communicated through lived experience. I already mentioned the soldier who feels the impacts of climate change in his bones as he’s losing his Christmases because he has to keep responding to fires. The bush that he loves and appreciates because he’s been training in it for 30 years is changing. He doesn’t see the little animals or birds he normally sees. It’s deeply felt and understood. It’s not an intellectual thing, it’s an experience of the heart. 

That’s why in our approach to the integrated risk assessment, we wanted to go further than pure analysis. We won’t change minds through glossy reports, we’ll do it by sitting down face-to-face with people. I see an amazing connection between the ecological security work that the IMCCS is doing and permaculture movements. Call it what you want– ecological security, environmental justice, intergenerational responsibility– but the goals are the same. It’s important to connect these movements together rather than separate them if we want to create change. 

That requires the thinkers and leaders, such as the security leaders, to go humbly amongst the public and have their one-on-one, face-to-face, small group conversation and build the movement from the bottom-up. Ultimately, we need a social tipping point. Yes, physically it is a problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But, in terms of the human cause and response, it’s a social movement challenge. Without a social tipping point, I don’t see our action being quick enough or big enough to avert a worsening crisis. 

Barron: The ASLCG report advocates using scenarios methodology for carrying out a risk assessment. In the case of Australia, what parties should be brought into scenario planning to conduct a thorough analysis of climate security?

Durrant: It’s important that scenarios are an immersive experience. In order to create that immersion, I think there are three main groups that are important: security professionals, climate science and sector impact experts (e.g. economy, health, environment, infrastructure), and community and civic groups. I think it’s really important to bring these groups all together. By design, the assessment will help information to flow from the bottom-up. 

These integrated scenarios provide opportunities for creativity, for example, imagining plausible utopias. How do we rethink international security and creatively imagine the rules of a different world? I think this creativity is really important because the right-brained thinkers– the intelligence officers and the security analysts– are very good at dystopias but not very good at utopias. I think bringing the creative arts, storytelling sector, and other strange bedfellows for the security world into the conversation is important for addressing this multifaceted crisis. 

We also need diverse groups to solve diverse planetary problems. The answer to an African problem might be from an Indian solution and the answer to an American problem might come from a Nordic solution and the answer to an Australian problem might come from a Chinese solution, so we can’t afford to not share the solutions. It’s also important to get youth and other groups involved that also come with unique skills and perspectives. 

Barron: I completely agree with your points on diversity and also youth engagement, do you see that as a part of the positive social tipping point we’re working towards?

Durrant: Yes, and it’s people coming with their authentic voices as well. We have a certain paradigm that can be reductionist, patriarchal, and capitalist. There are many assumptions that are deeply embedded in how we think. Women’s voices, Indigenous voices, non-Western voices, and youth voices are not captive in that paradigm. 

Certain rules of thinking tend to run very deep in the security community. Traditionally, security is about a bad guy, whereas the climate crisis doesn’t really have a clearly defined adversary. That means there is a whole body of learning you need to put aside in order to think differently, and it’s a very hard transformation to make. Our mindset for dealing with problems doesn’t often get to the root cause. 

Barron: What is at stake for Australia if it falls behind its allies and partners in getting to those root causes? In contrast, what opportunities exist if Australia steps up its commitment to combating these challenges?

Durrant: I’ll start with the opportunities. Australia can be a leader because, uniquely among the western alliance, it’s very rich in renewable energy resources and also agricultural resources; it’s a net exporter. Even with its major climate vulnerabilities, the biocapacity of the Australian continent to continue to produce food is substantial. When the world starts to get short of food and needs secure access to critical minerals, Australia can be there. Australia also has masses of nuclear, hydrogen, wind, and solar energy so it’s actually really well poised to be a renewable energy superpower. 

Australia has a choice in how to use this power. It can choose to perpetrate great power to control and shape the world in our favor. Or, it can use its force to address social justice concerns and provide resources to those who need them most.  We have to think globally and not just locally and transform the mindset from thinking “oh we’re lucky we don’t have to work too hard”, to thinking “wow, we’re fortunate, we can help others and lead the transition.” Some of that shift is evident in the government’s efforts. They are seeing that they can be a force for good and need to choose that path. 

Read about the ASLCG’s first report, “Missing in Action,” here

The Making of a Climate General: An Interview with IMCCS Chair, Retired General Tom Middendorp

By Elsa Barron

The chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), Gen. Tom Middendorp (Ret.) recently published a book titled Klimaatgeneraal, or “Climate General.” The book builds on his tenure as the Chief of Defense of the Netherlands to illustrate the relationship between climate change and security risks, before turning to positive solutions to address these interconnected challenges. CCS Research Fellow Elsa Barron spoke with Gen. Middendorp about his identity as a “climate general,” the evolution of the climate security field, and opportunities for climate adaptation and mitigation in the security sector. 

Elsa Barron: As the Chief of Defense of the Netherlands, how did you initially become concerned about the security impacts of climate change?

General Tom Middendorp (Ret.): Like all militaries in the world, in the Netherlands, we feel the impact of climate change in all of our missions. Impacts such as high temperatures and drought are affecting our work and the terrain we navigate. In all of my missions, I also saw how climate change is affecting our security environment and how it is related to the root cause of conflict. That made me more aware of the impact of climate on our operations, but even then, I didn’t initially make the connection to climate change. That connection came later when I was the Chief of Defense and I conducted strategic sessions on the future of defense and considered major drivers of change. That’s when I realized that climate change might be the biggest driver of the century shaping security risks.

Barron: Are there any on-the-ground experiences from your career that illustrate the interlinkages between climate change, insecurity, and conflict risks?

Gen. Middendorp (Ret.): I’ll start with Afghanistan because I’ve been deployed there several times. The last time I was there, I was a task force commander in the south of the country and there I saw how climate change impacted local security. There was a town that had been flooded by the Taliban, which we had been fighting for days to remove. Eventually, we succeeded, but only to find out that the Taliban could return at any moment because of tensions in the village that they exploited for influence. We ultimately discovered that those tensions were caused by disputes over how to divide the water resources in the province. 

Once we mediated a solution regarding the division of water resources, the village suddenly became a quiet area and the Taliban couldn’t regain their influence. The success became tangible a year later when I visited that same town with our [the Netherlands’] current king and we could walk through the main street with limited protection. It illustrates how the security situation can change by addressing a root cause that was, in this case, climate-related. 

For me, Afghanistan was a wake-up call. And I saw the same thing happening in other mission areas. In Somalia, we were fighting piracy on the seas, but in fact, we were fighting farmers and fishermen who had been pushed away from their homelands by droughts and cattle failure and needed to sustain their families. They couldn’t find any work, and then they got into the hands of organized crime and extremist organizations. Fighting these farmers and fishermen is like fighting symptoms of a deeper cause, and that deeper cause was climate change. So, if we really want to build security in any region of the world, we need to also look at the deeper root causes beyond conflict. 

Barron: After witnessing these interlinkages, what drove you to start speaking out about climate security risks and ultimately gain the title, “Climate General,” which is also the title of your recent book (Klimaatgeneraal)?

Gen. Middendorp (Ret.): It was during my period as Chief of Defense, when we were conducting strategic planning that I came to the realization that climate change was probably one of the biggest challenges of the century and as such also a driver of change for our Defense organization. During that period, I was invited to the Halifax conference in Canada to talk about climate insecurity, not necessarily because I was known for that subject but because I come from the Netherlands where 50% of our population lives below sea level. The conference occurred in the runup to the U.S. elections in 2016 and one of the candidates had just announced that he would step out of the Paris agreement. Suddenly, my topic became a very political one and attracted a lot of attention. 

That attention triggered another invitation to speak to the Planetary Security Conference in the Hague. There, I also explained the nexus between climate change and security and it exploded in the Dutch media. Environmental organizations accused me of securitizing their issue. Politicians, especially right-wing politicians, were surprised that a general was addressing a topic like climate change. Others said I should stick to my own business and not interfere with this issue. There was a lot of turmoil. Interestingly, within the military, there was hardly any reaction because most of the soldiers understood this concept and had already experienced how climate change impacted their work. 

This was the first time in my tenure as Chief of Defense that I went viral on social media. That gave me the nickname the “Green General” and I decided to wear that name with honor. Later when I resigned from military service, I became more and more devoted to this subject. I met Sherri Goodman, and we decided to join forces and raise the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), a powerful global network combining the practical experience of senior military leaders around the world with the scientific research of our research institutes. That’s how it all started and that is why I named my book “Climate General”, which is running well in The Netherlands and which might be interesting to publish internationally. 

Barron: The defense sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in many countries and militaries rely on fossil fuels to ensure readiness and effectiveness. How can the defense sector contribute to mitigation efforts without affecting their readiness?

Gen. Middendorp (Ret.): Whether we like it or not, mitigation is underway in the civil sector and it will also happen in the military. The challenge for us is to pursue mitigation in a way that does not affect our readiness and our effectiveness. That can be done by starting with our peacetime infrastructure and peacetime equipment. The second level can focus on smaller, lighter capabilities such as unmanned vehicles, air systems, or space systems that hardly need big propulsion systems. The largest challenge is the heavier equipment such as naval vessels, fighter planes, or tanks. Currently, the technology is not developed enough to immediately transition to new propulsion systems. Here, we need to invest in research and development to create solutions for next-generation capabilities.

In addition to mitigating emissions, green technologies can even help us to improve our operational effectiveness. They can help us to become more self-supporting in our missions and provide us with more diversified energy sources, endurance, and operational effectiveness. They can help us reduce the logistical burden and the risks of vulnerable supply lines. And they can help us reduce the noise and heat signatures of our military capabilities. The military has always shown leadership in developing and adopting new technologies. We need to catch up and look at the energy transition as an opportunity to investigate the possibilities of new green technologies that can both mitigate emissions and also improve operational readiness, an argument we make in the latest World Climate and Security Report publication, Decarbonized Defense: The Need for Clean Military Power in the Age of Climate Change.

Barron: What are some key messages that you hope readers of Klimaatgeneraal will take away from your book?

Gen. Middendorp (Ret.): The first key message is that climate change is also a security problem and we need to depoliticize the issue. Security has always been seen as more of a right-wing issue and climate change has always been seen as a more left-wing issue. Yet, they are both very basic issues for the well-being of our societies, so it is most productive to depoliticize them and address them where needed. Secondly, I think it is important for people to become more aware of how climate change affects our security, and this book is about exactly that. It is about making people aware that climate change is affecting their security in their own homes. 

Thirdly, about the solutions side, it is important to notice that climate change is not a military problem specifically, it is a whole-of-society problem. In dealing with climate change, we (the Military) can bring part of the solution to the table but we need to develop our role as part of a wider effort with other agencies. The fourth lesson is that we can all contribute to change. Climate change is a very big, complex topic and we can hardly comprehend all of its impacts. People find it hard to understand and to see what they can do to address it. In this book, I give many examples of the difference that individuals can make because I do believe that together we can face this challenge and turn it around.

RELEASE: Amid European Heat Wave, International Military Network Releases Report Warning of Security Risks of Climate Change in the Balkans

By Elsa Barron

July 25, 2022 —  In the midst of one of Europe’s most punishing heat waves in recent memory, the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS Expert Group) today launched a new Climate Security Snapshot focused on the Balkans. The snapshot builds on findings from the Climate Security Risk Index (CSRI), a tool developed by Expert Group member The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. It is the second in a series of papers comprising the third annual World Climate and Security Report (WCSR).

The report warns that the Balkans face serious climate security risks. Intensifying climate change impacts such as drought, heatwaves (as witnessed this summer), and tropical storms may heighten existing post-conflict tensions, threaten Europe’s broader climate goals, and increase the region’s susceptibility to influence from the Russian and Chinese governments. Additionally, climate-induced migration flows from the Middle East and Africa through the region may be exploited by far right extremists. The ongoing conflict in neighboring Ukraine only further heightens these concerns.

According to the CSRI, when compared to other regions of Europe, the Balkans face some of the most severe climate risks. Globally, climate risks in the Balkans fall slightly below average, and its resilience falls almost exactly in the middle of the global standard (though it is a standard which is dropping due to accelerating climate change). All nations in the region except Albania at least slightly outperform in resilience when compared to risk. However, those relative measures do not minimize the region’s significant vulnerability to increasing climate disasters, especially when compared to other parts of Europe, not least given a recent history of ethnic and sectarian conflict, which studies have shown increases the likelihood of climate-driven conflict. 

Additionally, the report asserts that engaged climate security action—at a scale commensurate to the rapidly-increasing risks—can offer positive opportunities for post-conflict peacebuilding and cooperation in the Balkans, and can build a strong framework of human security for the region. Such efforts will be critical to continuing to mitigate and adapt to climate change and build peace, security, and climate resilience.

This climate security snapshot follows the release of the first report in the WCSR 2022 series, Decarbonized Defense: The Need for Clean Military Power in the Age of Climate Change. Future components of the series will include climate security snapshots in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Sahel as well as a report on climate security adaptation practices and gaps among NATO militaries.

Direct inquiries to: Andrew Facini, afacini@csrisks.org

Summer Heatwave Underscores Importance of NATO’s Climate Security Focus

By Erin Sikorsky

On July 18, the UK Royal Air Force halted flights out of its largest airbase because the ‘runway had melted’ – a line my colleagues suggested they’d expect to read in a dystopian science fiction novel about the future. Alas, this headline was all too real, as countries across Europe battled record climate change-driven heatwaves. 

While part of the RAF was (temporarily) grounded, other European militaries – in Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, Cyprus, and Slovenia – were helping fight unprecedented fires across their countries. Nearly half of the EU and UK is at risk of drought, with the European Commission’s Joint Research Center assessing that water and heat stress are driving crop yields down and straining energy production across the continent. Given that food and energy crises were expected well before this heatwave struck, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg could not have asked for a better illustration of his assertion that climate change is a “crisis multiplier.”

Stoltenberg uttered that phrase just a few weeks before this latest spate of climate hazards, at the annual NATO leaders Summit in Madrid, where the alliance announced a goal of reducing emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030 and reducing to net zero by 2050. Saying “what can be measured can be cut,” Stoltenberg noted NATO had created a new methodology for measuring military emissions. Details of the methodology have not yet been released, however, though a press report suggests the base comparison year will be 2019, and the 45 percent target will apply to NATO political and military facilities as well as NATO-owned military equipment like surveillance planes and drones.

There were other climate announcements at the Summit as well. The new Strategic Concept for the alliance—a high level guiding document—refers repeatedly to risks from climate change, emphasizing crisis prevention and cooperative security as pathways to manage climate risks. NATO also released a “Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment”, as required by the 2021 Climate Change and Security Action Plan adopted by the alliance. The new assessment provides a high-level analysis of how climate change is impacting NATO in four key areas: 1 ) the strategic environment; 2) its assets and installations; 3) its missions and multi-domain operations; and 4) its resilience and civil preparedness. The report also includes a useful graphic identifying mitigation, adaptation and overlapping opportunities for the alliance going forward. 

Importantly, NATO is not just identifying risks, but also funding opportunities to tackle them. The alliance revealed a new $1 billion Innovation Fund at the Summit – the world’s first multi-sovereign venture capital fund to invest in dual-use technologies, including in the energy arena. The fund complements NATO’s Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic – or DIANA – which supports the development and adaptation of dual-use emerging technologies to critical security and defense challenges.  As the IMCCS Expert Group’s new report, Decarbonized Defense, noted, both of these initiatives could play an important role in clean energy and climate adaptation technologies.

Overall, NATO moved the ball down the field on climate security in the 2022 summit, but there is much more to do if the alliance is to truly prepare its member countries for the climate security threats that are already here, much less the even more intensified effects expected in the next few decades. Going forward, the alliance should focus its efforts in three areas: 

1) Showcase Operational Effectiveness: NATO should continue to identify and promote climate mitigation and adaptation opportunities that will increase military effectiveness. This approach will be key to bringing along countries in the alliance that are more skeptical of climate action;

2) Share Best Practices: Many countries within the alliance are already pursuing clean energy technologies and new adaptation strategies. The new Climate Security Center of Excellence, led by Canada, can play an important role in convening member states to exchange ideas and information, and train a new generation of NATO leaders in best practices for integrating climate considerations; 

3) Emphasize Transparency: NATO should release a version of the methodology for measuring emissions and share its process with NATO partners around the world. It should also publish metrics for measuring its progress across its climate agenda. 

The past year has underscored the critical importance and relevance of NATO, as the alliance has come together in the face of unwarranted Russian aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, both the Russian invasion and the summer heatwave have demonstrated the serious security risks of continuing dependence on fossil fuels, and the threats posed by climate change. Ensuring NATO is fit for purpose in the coming decades requires a continued and deepened commitment to keeping climate change front and center in the alliance’s strategies and plans. 

New French Climate & Defense Strategy Foreshadows a Wave of Climate Security Plans in Europe

By Elsa Barron

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. 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.

Renewed Urgency of Climate Security Action: Launch of the 2022 World Climate and Security Report Series

By Elsa Barron

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has set off a tsunami of global effects, including food, fuel, fertilizer, and finance crises, explained Dr. Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center of Adaptation at the International Military Council on Climate and Security’s (IMCCS) 2022 World Climate and Security Report Series Launch

In the midst of these developing problems, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Hon. David van Weel explains that, “Climate change is an ongoing challenge, if we fail to slow it down, the results may be similar to those we can see in wars—famine, loss of land and livelihoods, and migration.”

These overlapping and intersecting crises underscore the need to accelerate the energy transition, which, as IMCCS Director Erin Sikorsky stated, is a win-win-win situation. “It protects soldiers and operations, it undercuts petro-dictators like Putin, and it combats long-term climate security risks.” Therefore, moving from word to deed on decarbonization is a prerequisite for global security. Gen. Tom Middendorp (Ret.), Chair of the IMCCS, noted that militaries, as some of the largest emitters, have an important responsibility to be a leading part of the solution. 

The first report in the World Climate and Security Report Series, Decarbonized Defense: The Need for Clean Military Power in the Age of Climate Change, addresses this responsibility and highlights the tools required to enact change. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Hon. Sherri Goodman, Secretary General of the IMCCS. At the series launch, she noted that one of the most important contributions of the Decarbonizing Defense report is standard-setting for measuring military emissions in order to advance emissions reductions–a process in which NATO can play an important role. 

Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister François Bausch pointed to the advantages of collaboration between NATO and the European Union around decarbonization in order to boost research and innovation around sustainable technologies. This innovation is particularly important for decarbonizing heavier operational systems, which is one of the largest challenges facing militaries. The technology development required to decarbonize these systems provides additional opportunities to reduce emissions in hard-to-abate civil sectors, leading to multiplicative benefits. 

Concluding his remarks, Minister Bausch expressed his hopes that, “the proposals made in this World Climate and Security Report will help us to further fuel and shape more concrete action towards climate neutrality in the defense sector,” a key step to achieving the long-term security of a global system increasingly destabilized by climate change. 

You can watch the full event recording here and read the Decarbonizing Defense report here.

RELEASE: Decarbonized Defense: Kicking off the World Climate and Security Report 2022

June 7, 2022 —  Today the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS Expert Group) launched a new report, Decarbonized Defense: The Need for Clean Military Power in the Age of Climate Change, the first in a series of papers comprising the third annual World Climate and Security Report. The paper warns that militaries must accelerate efforts toward net zero to achieve a win-win-win: minimize fossil fuel-related operational vulnerabilities, undermine petro-dictators like Vladimir Putin, and combat climate change.  

The report reveals that there are high operational costs of continued fossil fuel use by militaries, and recommends that security leaders across NATO and the EU seize opportunities to ensure that low carbon considerations and energy efficiency standards are key factors in new procurement processes, research and innovation. The authors note that the war in Ukraine is a turning point for sustainable change, and that ministries and departments of defense can lead broader technological change across society by creating enough demand signals to spur innovation and enable the private sector to bring low-carbon solutions to the market. 

Join Us for the Launch of the 2022 World Climate and Security Series

By Elsa Barron

Join the International Military Council on Climate Security’s Expert Group on June 7, 2022, at 5 PM CET/ 11 AM ET for the launch of the 2022 World Climate and Security Report Series (register here). The 2022 Series includes three components reflecting the priorities in the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan — risk assessment, mitigation challenges and opportunities, and climate adaptation strategies. Given the already existing and intensifying impacts of climate change, each component of the series is designed to equip policymakers to move from planning to action to address the consequent security threats.

Our virtual launch event (register here) will feature remarks from IMCCS leadership, the Honorable Sherri Goodman and General Tom Middendorp (Ret), as well as the Luxembourg Minister of Defense Francois Bausch and other special guests. We hope you can join us!

Register here

UPDATE 6/7/2022: Read the report here.

New Report: Scenarios-Based Analysis for the Levant: Adaptive Technologies for Regional Climate-Related Security Risks

Today, the Center for Climate and Security, the International Military Council on Climate Security Expert Group, and adelphi released a new scenarios-based report on the Levant, Adaptive Technologies for Regional Climate-Related Security Risks, as part of the Weathering Risk project. 

This scenario-based analysis explores four possible future climate security scenarios for the Levant, in order to anticipate future risks and identify priority policy areas. It looks particularly at how different degrees of technological availability and international cooperation could lead to different outcomes in the region.

To better anticipate and respond to future risks, we convened regional experts using a scenario analysis method. The experts identified the most important and most uncertain or difficult to predict drivers of climate security risks in the Levant. From those, two were selected: technological availability and international cooperation. The interaction between these drivers at their extremes produces four future scenarios for the region based on the expected physical climate change effects.

The process of developing and analyzing these four scenarios highlighted the importance of state policy, governance, and cooperation as variables shaping states’ capacity to cope with climate change.

While the exercise did not identify significant new entry points for addressing regional governance or cooperation deficits, it did reveal that even in states with poor or absent governance and low levels of cooperation, societies may find ways of coping with adverse climate impacts if the means to adapt are readily available.

Our scenarios suggest that making small-scale adaptive technologies widely available may offer a path to increasing climate resilience in societies suffering from low cooperation and poor or even predatory governance.

To read the full report, click here.

South Asia’s Scorching Heatwave: Another Window Into Our Climate-Insecure Planet

By Sarang Shidore

South Asia’s cruel heatwave in recent weeks has seen land temperatures reach 122 F (49 C) and air temperatures as high as 143 F (62 C) in India and Pakistan. A brutal April was preceded by a searing March, both setting records on the subcontinent for those months. The peak summer period in the region is in May and early June, so the early arrival of extreme temperatures was another unusual characteristic of this heatwave.