IMCCS Welcomes Two New Institutional Partners

By Elsa Barron

As the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) kicks off another year of climate security action, the network is excited to announce two new institutional partners to bolster its global engagement: the Climate Change & (In)Security Project and the Swedish Defence University. IMCCS institutional partners come from over a dozen countries and contribute a wide range of climate and security expertise to the network. 

With a focus on the UK and its interests, the Climate Change & (In)Security Project (CCIP) explores the insecurities created by climate change and how to respond to them. CCIP is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the British Army’s Centre for Historical and Armed Conflict Research (CHACR). CCIP channels the highest quality research and analysis into military, government, and other practitioner understanding and decision-making.

The Swedish Defence University is a world-leading university in the fields of defense, crisis management, and security. Its mission is to generate and disseminate knowledge in these areas and create partnerships and collaboration in service to society. Through research, education, and collaboration the Swedish Defence University contributes to Sweden’s defense capability, total defense, national and international security, and sustainable democratic societies.

The IMCCS welcomes these new additions and looks forward to a fruitful collaboration.

A New Kid on the Block: NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence

By Emil Havstrup and Akash Ramnath

This article was originally published by the Planetary Security Initiative.

Earlier this year, NATO announced it will set up a new NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence (CCASCOE), spearheaded by Global Affairs Canada (Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Department of National Defence (Canadian Ministry of Defence), to be based in Montreal. The COE is linked to NATO’s new Strategic Concept, which is unique, not only in its designation of the Russian Federation as an adversary of NATO, but also in identifying non-traditional threats such as climate change, to the security of the alliance. It also builds upon a Climate Change and Security Action Plan that NATO adopted in 2021. 

This could pave the way for a shift in how the alliance engages with climate change. The security dimension of climate change in NATO’s threat environment, operational capabilities, as well as its own contributions to the decarbonisation efforts, are properly acknowledged. This article will discuss what role CCASCOE can play to further NATO’s goals of awareness raising, adapting to developing climate-induced security risks and preparing militaries for a new climate reality.

The aims and focus of CCASCOE

According to NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept, “climate change is a defining challenge of our time, with a profound impact on Allied security.” To support this, NATO’s Climate Change and Security Action Plan focuses on four approaches to meet climate-security challenges:

  1. Increased awareness of the impact of climate change on security;
  2. Adaptation of the military to climate change;
  3. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of the military;
  4. Enhancing NATO’s outreach on this issue.

CCASCOE is expected to cover these issues, but details on its exact focus and prioritisation are still to be confirmed. However, it can be inferred that it will closely mirror NATO’s priorities on the climate and security nexus. Key to CCASCOE’s success will be its ability to leverage existing expertise from think tanks and academia, best practices from member and partner countries, as well as raising awareness and mainstreaming climate-security through key political and military command levels. Another question will be how to cooperate with other centres and training institutes, notably the NATO Centre for Excellence for Energy Security (ENSEC).

Raising Awareness

Whilst climate-security has gained traction in recent years, there is undoubtedly still apprehension within military circles to adding additional agendas to military strategy and operations, notably with regard to a focus on decarbonisation, which in their minds could possibly undermine operational effectiveness.

This fear often understates the benefits that can come with adapting and mitigating armed forces to the impacts of climate change. So-called ‘Greener’ armed forces could in fact strengthen military capabilities by both improving strategic autonomy, lowering emissions contributions and promoting the development of new technologies which might have civilian applications. CCASCOE’s role would be raising this issue with the highest political and military leaderships levels to help, at the very least, accelerate the appetite in military ranks for this issue.

CCASCOE’s position within the NATO informational framework means that it can act as a hub for raising awareness, to the benefit of climate-proofing defence policies, military doctrines and related issues such as capabilities. In addition to risk assessments (discussed below), CCASCOE could disseminate learnings and promote the vast array of climate-security analyses already in circulation. These include work done by the International Military Council on Climate and Security, SIPRI’s Climate change and Security project, the German-spearhead Weathering Risks project, International Crisis Group and the UK-financed DCAF programme amongst others.

Finally, to continue the mainstreaming process, CCASCOE could also act as a central repository for climate-security best practices adopted by military operations around the world. Whether learning how to set up a Drought Operations Coordination centre from UN peacekeeping operations to electrifying aviation to support a military energy transition, pooling and disseminating best practices is a very effective way CCASCOE can further mainstreaming the climate agenda. An example of climate-security best practices sharing is the Planetary Security Initiative, hosted by the Clingendael Institute.

Adapting allied militaries

Climate change can pose threats to NATO’s operational ability by increasing the risks to infrastructure and environmental impacts on personnel, in addition to making NATO member militaries more responsible for dealing with humanitarian assistance and disaster reduction (HADR). Earlier research by Clingendael has identified the following aspects as particularly vulnerable:

  1. Military infrastructure and installations;
  2. Mental and physical health;
  3. Equipment;
  4. Air conditioning for personnel, computer and technology;
  5. Fighter jet engine performance
  6. Clothing

The key to supporting these adaptation efforts, will be in compiling and distributing existing knowledge on how to adapt military installations to more hazardous climate such as increased flooding, or how to ensure the health of troops in environments That experiences reoccurring heatwaves. CCASCOE could carry out research on the vulnerabilities NATO faces, and potential responses. Such research might also be conducted in collaboration with the COE for Military Medicine (MILMED), establishing a pathway of coordination with other COEs is vital to avoid duplication and to enhance synergies.

Such adjustments will depend upon risk assessments that can advise on these changing operational environments. As of 2021-22, NATO has begun to carry out a yearly Climate Change and Security Impact Assessments (CCSIA), which analyses environmental vulnerabilities of NATO assets.

Yet this framework does not provide overall assessments pertaining to the specific and nuanced risks each NATO installation faces. CCASCOE could help bridge this gap by analysing and aggregating the overall risks to each member state’s installations, thus enhancing the efficacy of such assessments. To achieve this, expertise in military risk assessments would need to be acquired, as well as closer feedback relationships with national militaries. An example of how a climate-influenced operational assessment could look like is offered by Deloitte.  

In addition, CCASCOE has the potential to shape NATO’s role in responding to climate change induced calls for HADR. With the growing prevalence of extreme weather phenomena like the forest fires in Europe this summer, current HADR architecture is stretched. Thus, militaries are more likely to become first responders in this respect.

With the additional strain placed on resourcing and operations, NATO has responded by creating a Centre of Excellence for Crisis Management and Disaster Response (CMDR). CCASCOE could empower this framework by supporting the integration of insights and best practices on how climate change affects HADR operations, to help improve upon existing international programs and mechanisms, in particular the preparedness of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC).

Mitigation and Decarbonising defence

Within the NATO security apparatus, decarbonisation and the green transition of armed forces has often played second fiddle to emerging security developments. Momentum on projects such as the Green Defence Framework adopted in 2014, which sought to introduce green standards across NATO, faced setbacks due to the Russian invasion of Crimea. CCASCOE has the potential to galvanize NATO into placing greater focus on mitigation efforts despite the organisation lacking the ability to compel allied states to transition.

Utilising the idea of being a knowledge hub, CCASCOE could also help compile and disseminate best practices specifically on military decarbonisation and the energy transition. This might better identify synergies in strategy, R&D and implementation for decarbonisation.  By tackling so-called ‘low hanging fruit’, best practices that are already tried and tested would be easier to integrate into allied militaries. This includes pilot testing carbon transformation for military aviation or utilising microgrids to enhance installations energy resilience, a development championed by the US.

Investment in technology is an issue high on NATO’s agenda. The Defence Pledge endorsed in 2014 calls for allies to spend at least 20% of their military budget on Research and Development (R&D). Though most funds are earmarked for other projects, it is reasonable to assume that CCASCOE could play a major role in encouraging partner countries to dedicate further resources to R&D focused on green energy transition.

CCASCOE could complimentarily fill this void by determining common measurement denominators for reporting Scope 1 and 2 emissions. This would also be a helpful driver towards greater transparency in military emissions reporting, with NATO announcing it was developing a methodology to do so. Either CCASCOE should take the lead or work closely with NATO’s Science and Technology Organization (STO).

Moreover, CCASCOE could help innovation in relation to procurement procedures. Military purchases and procurements are strictly a competence of national governments. CCASCOE might leverage its potential as a knowledge hub to reflect best practices from other militaries on green procurement. This would also be a great help for the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), who are currently attempting to lead environmental mainstreaming of procurement amongst alliance members. National governments could potentially seek out CCASCOE on their own initiative to provide added perspective on spending and future areas of saving, as well as developing green procurement guidelines.

Taking advantage of central repositories like CCASCOE might have the added benefit of strengthening the diversity and specialisations of NATO armed forces. CCASCOE’s role would be to coordinate national militaries investments in different aspects of green defence and foster synergies, best utilising available resourcing and skills, whilst avoiding duplications.

A huge task ahead

Centres of Excellence and formalised best practice sharing channels are no guarantee of accelerating climate-sensitivities in militaries. However, CCASCOE can offer a central repository for strategic insights of how climate change impacts NATO’s capabilities and the ability of the alliance to respond to them. By being relatively high level on the strategy side, CCASCOE is unlikely to infringe on other, more implementation-orientated COEs, as well as further formalising NATO’s commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050.

In the coming months, the design of the COE will be further refined by Canada and fellow NATO Allies. It will be interesting to see which partners are brought in and what the focus will be of this ‘new kid’ on the climate-security block. Climate threats are only likely to grow, meaning NATO will need all the help it can get.

Call for Submissions: Young Leaders: NATO and Climate Security in my Backyard

By Elsa Barron

Are you a young person concerned about the impacts of climate change on well-being and security in your home community? Is your community pursuing innovative approaches to managing climate risks that increase safety and security for your neighbors? Do you have a message to share with policymakers across NATO nations about the opportunities and challenges your home will face in a warming world? The International Military Council on  Climate and Security (IMCCS) and the U.S. Mission to NATO want to hear your story. We are launching a call for young people to submit short videos showcasing their personal climate security stories. NATO has increased its ambition on climate change over the past few years and your fresh perspectives can help them drive their action even further. 

Selected videos will be featured in a #MyClimateSecurityStory social media campaign showcasing youth experiences with climate security risks across the Arctic, the Mediterranean, and Eastern Europe. In addition to being featured on social media, selected individuals will be invited to a Young Leaders’ Climate Security Dialogue with the potential for in-person engagement at a NATO ministerial meeting.

Read the full Call for Submissions and apply here.

REPORT: IMCCS Contributes Chapter on Security to Global Center on Adaptation 2022 Report

By Brigitte Hugh and Elsa Barron

Ahead of the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Global Center on Adaptation released the State and Trends in Africa Report 2022 (STA22) which completes an overview of the present and projected climate risks in Africa and provides a blueprint for adaptation action. 

This year, the chapter on security was provided by the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) Expert Group, co-authored by  Elsa Barron of the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and Laura Birkman of the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS). 

The chapter advocates the need to “climate-proof” security action and “conflict-proof” climate adaptation. This message is underscored through the chapter’s five key messages: 

  1. As a “threat multiplier,” climate change exacerbates fragile situations and worsens social tensions and upheaval. Therefore, countries with fragile socioeconomic and political systems are especially susceptible to the security impacts of climate change.
  2. There can be no adaptation without security, just as there is no security without adaptation. Without effective governance and social and political stability, adaptation projects fall to the wayside, or may even risk exacerbating population vulnerability if they do not consider emergent security risks. 
  3. A range of early-warning systems (EWS) have emerged in the African context, which effectively warn and inform about dimensions of climate and conflict. EWS should rely on local actors and their knowledge in order to prevent maladaptation and to not enhance or exacerbate existing vulnerabilities of local and marginalized communities.
  4. Integrating dialogue into the planning and implementation stages of all adaptation projects is important for addressing community concerns. Otherwise, adaptation projects could create economic or social winners and losers, increasing instability among the local population. Dialogue programs help to avert these missteps toward maladaptation and establish local partnerships that are more resilient to climate and conflict risks.
  5. Regional and local security sectors in Africa have a significant opportunity to engage in climate adaptation and climate-security risk reduction. This is because, in many cases, they may be the only existing or best-equipped force to prepare for and respond to disasters. 

To read the chapter on security, click here. To read the full report click here.

Briefer: Climate Change a “Top Tier Threat” in the 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy

By Sherri Goodman, Holly Kaufman, and Pauline Baudu

The Biden Administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS), released in October 2022, elevates attention and focus on climate security beyond any prior NSS. The security risks of climate change get the attention in the NSS they have long deserved. Climate change is in fact framed as a top-tier threat on a par with geopolitical challenges from U.S. adversaries and competitors.

The NSS states:

“Of all of the shared problems we face, climate change is the greatest and potentially [most] existential for all nations. Without immediate global action during this crucial decade, global temperatures will cross the critical warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius after which scientists have warned some of the most catastrophic climate impacts will be irreversible.”

The world is already experiencing deadly and life-altering climate-related catastrophes (e.g, flooding in Pakistan, fires and drought in California, hurricanes in Florida) when the Earth’s global average land and ocean surface temperature has risen at least 1.1 degrees Celsius since the mid-1800s (approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit). This NSS recognizes the unprecedented risks posed by such disasters. It therefore includes climate risks and related solutions in every aspect of national security and foreign policy, from reduction of carbon pollution to building resilience at home and abroad, and threading climate risks into every regional strategy. In this regard, the new NSS includes many of the recommendations in our Briefer of June 2021,“Climate Change in the U.S. National Security Strategy: History and Recommendations.”

The most recent NSS addresses our five key recommendations as well emerging concerns due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. These are 1) include all sectors, not just energy, including sources and sinks; 2) expand the concept of climate security to ecological security; 3) increase environmental monitoring; 4) forecast and plan for unpredictability; 5) assert strong U.S. leadership on climate and inter-related global ecological concerns, including passing aggressive climate and environmental restoration legislation and appropriating sufficient funding.

This briefer by the Center for Climate and Security focuses on these five recommendations and the relevant provisions within the NSS, concluding that the NSS both succeeds in recognizing the interdependence of all natural systems and resources, but also embodies several contradictions which should be improved. However, “the theme of the 2022 NSS is spot on: ‘No country should withhold progress on existential transnational issues like the climate crisis because of bilateral differences.'”

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.