By Erin Sikorsky, Patricia Parera, and Brigitte Hugh
Almost a year after the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine began, it was no surprise that the 2023 Munich Security Conference focused on the importance and implications of the ongoing conflict. This focus included a look at the second-order effects of the conflict, such as global food insecurity and the energy transition – a recognition that tackling such transnational challenges are integral to what the conference report identified as a need for “A re-envisioned liberal, rules-based international order…to strengthen democratic resilience in an era of fierce systemic competition with autocratic regimes.”
Underscoring the importance of these issues, early in the conference NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmerman, and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell met to discuss the intersection of climate change and security. As Kerry said, “While we must confront the security risks the world faces head on, we must also do so with an eye to the climate crisis, which is making these dangers worse.”
The Center for Climate and Security (CCS) and the International Military Council for Climate and Security (IMCCS) helped drive the conversation forward on these topics at the conference through two high-level side-events: “Cleaner and Meaner: The Military Energy Security Transition by Design” and “Feeding Climate Resilience: Mapping the Security Benefits of Agriculture and Climate Adaptation.” The events included government officials, NGO and private foundation representatives, defense sector leaders and the media.
Implementing NATO’s Climate Security Action Plan
NATO and IMCCS co-hosted the Cleaner and Meaner side-event, which focused on the challenges and opportunities facing NATO members as they consider the security risks of climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuel dependence. During the event, the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel, said that the alliance needs “to mainstream climate change and energy transition considerations into the entire NATO enterprise, including training, exercising, force planning, and the development and procurement of military capabilities.”
The conversation culminated in three key takeaways: first, public-private partnerships are critical for decarbonizing defense. As one participant put it, militaries must work with the private sector to more quickly turn clean energy technologies into capabilities. Second, competing timelines are a key challenge for militaries – the need to resupply today in the face of the Ukraine conflict with the longer timeline needed to integrate new clean energy technologies. Further complicating matters is the fact that equipment procured today may not be as useful in a warming world, and participants noted militaries will need to reexamine their assumptions and strategic planning priorities to manage such change. A third takeaway was the importance of focusing on the operational benefits of clean energy for the military. Demonstrating that investments in clean energy will help militaries achieve their core duties will help speed the transition.
The Food and Climate Security Nexus
The Feeding Climate Resilience side-event hosted by CCS explored the intersection of food insecurity, climate change, and conflict. As one participant put it, investing in stable ground through climate and agricultural adaptation ensures that the soil is less fertile for insurgencies. The conversation emphasized three key needs: (1) the adoption of a more holistic and systems approach to the issues of climate change, food insecurity, and instability; (2) an increase in technology innovation in agriculture; and (3) more inclusive policy and decision making, from the subnational to international level. Participants discussed the need to develop, collect and disseminate concrete examples of successful and sustainable climate and food security-related initiatives which reduce conflict and build peace.
Participants underscored the security benefits of increased support for sustainable development policies and technological innovations that promote climate-smart agriculture and investments in science and technology that target the needs of small farmers–especially women. The conversation also identified the importance of scaling up climate finance and developing more responsive and inclusive planning and policy systems for finance, water management, and markets. Perhaps the most crucial lesson in addressing the current food security challenge is the importance of partnerships, particularly at the local and subnational level and between the private sector, government and civil society, among others. South-South cooperation and Triangular cooperation, or that between developed and developing countries, is also critical. The most promising multilateral partnerships are in areas like science and technology, because they can leverage the immense capabilities and assets of the private sector in cooperation with government and civil society.
The group concluded that tackling these issues requires a new Green Revolution. Research and innovation in agriculture are at the core of long-term food security and diminish the possibility of conflict, instability, and hunger, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Additionally, the conversation on food and climate must include water advocates as water is a key socio-economic driver for sustainable growth, livelihood, justice, food security, and labor. Without equitable and secure access to water for all, there can be no sustainable development or climate security.
CCS and IMCCS look forward to acting on the priorities outlined by participants in both sessions through targeted research, policy development and community building to increase awareness and investment in the military energy transition, agricultural adaptation, food security, and climate resilience.
Featured image sourced from: MSC / David Hecker, Munich Security Conference.