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.

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. 

IMCCS and NATO at the Munich Security Conference on the Eve of Conflict: Addressing Catastrophic Risks

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MSC-2022_3-1024x594.jpeg
MSC, Munich Security Conference, Hotel Bayerischer Hof, Fürstensalon. Source: Elsa Barron, International Military Council on Climate and Security, Feb 18, 2022.

By Elsa Barron

The threat of a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine hung over the recent 2022 Munich Security Conference, held from February 18-20. Events and discussions regarding NATO’s role in responding to this immediate geopolitical, and potential humanitarian, crisis were many. Devastatingly, these conversations that were at the time hypothetical are now coming to pass.

Other cross-cutting crises, and NATO’s role in addressing them, were also discussed in depth – including the security risks of a changing climate. In that context, the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) was honored to partner with NATO to host an event titled: “An Adaptation Battle Plan: Implementing Climate Security Action.” Speakers included The Honorable Anita Anand, Canadian Minister of National Defense, The Honorable Baiba Braže, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defense of the Netherlands (Ret) and Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), and The Honorable David van Weel, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.

New Climate Security Report has Implications for NATO and COP26

By Danice Ball and Lily Feldman

Earlier this month, the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) released the World Climate and Security Report (WCSR) 2021, the second in an ongoing series of annual reports. The report dives into climate security risk assessments for a few hotspot regions, including Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, and also provides concrete tools to help policymakers address the growing unprecedented threats. A unique inclusion in this year’s report is a new Climate Security Risk Matrix and Methodology, which allows for evaluation of comparative climate risk among countries. In addition, the report features a Climate Security Risk Perception Survey, aggregating forecasts of climate risks from leading climate security experts in the world. These experts find climate security to be among the most pressing issues the world faces now, and a priority for future planning efforts. Between the Risk Matrix, the Survey, climate security case studies, and policy recommendations, the IMCCS Expert Group believes that policymakers will find the information needed to inform next steps in both preparing for and preventing climate security risks.

European External Action Service building a Climate Change and Defence Roadmap

This is a cross-post from the Planetary Security Initiative

In an attempt to address the links between climate change and defence,  the European External Action Service (EEAS) has submitted a Climate Change and Defence Roadmap. With this roadmap, the EEAS proposes to integrate climate change into the defence actions of the EU, including in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) – while contributing to the wider Climate-Security Nexus.

Former Supreme Allied Commander: Burning Brazil Threatens Security

In a recent article published by Bloomberg News, Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret), former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and former commander of U.S. Southern Command – the Area of Responsibility (or AOR) that includes Brazil – makes a compelling case for how the fires in the Brazilian rainforest, and its implications for climate change, are a security issue not just for the country and its neighbors, but for the U.S. as well. He includes a quote from Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board member, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret), stating: ‘As my good friend Denny Ginn, formerly the admiral in charge of all Navy installations, has said, “it’s not a matter of if, only a matter of time” before we have a catastrophic event.’ Read the full article here.

Jamie Shea on the Climate and Security Podcast

In the latest episode of The Climate and Security Podcast, host Dr. Sweta Chakraborty talks to Jamie Shea, Secretary General of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO. Shea discusses how climate change is happening faster than initially predicted and what this acceleration means for global security. He describes the tensions between climate change mitigation and adaptation in terms of resource allocation and prioritization and how both must occur simultaneously. Jamie provides global security policy insight that only someone who has had a 39-year long career at NATO can provide. Enjoy this informative and unique global perspective from Jamie Shea!

The Center for Climate and Security’s video podcast takes climate change out of its environmental box, and brings it to the big kid’s table of national and international security. Featuring a series of exclusive dialogues with leading security, military and international affairs experts, the podcast explores our responsibility to prepare for a rapidly-changing world.

Subscribe to the Center for Climate and Security’s YouTube channel to never miss an episode! Or listen to the audio version on iTunes or Stitcher, and subscribe now to get real-time updates. If you’re one of those already subscribed on iTunes, we always welcome your ratings and reviews, as this helps us get the podcast out there to more listeners!