The hottest summers in Iraq are blown up by soldiers inside armored vehicles. Flood threatens the world’s largest naval base. Russian submarines are crawling in the melting Arctic. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg now wants to make global warming a central focus of the military alliance’s strategy and planning, shifting environmental issues to the center as a security threat.
The new NATO push, confirmed by the alliance’s foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, is a significant step forward for the organization, which has traditionally defended itself from threats from Russia and other world politicians.
Now, NATO will also try to include other types of threats in its activities, as climate change removes old security assumptions and creates new risks for democratic societies. Stoltenberg, the former UN special envoy for climate change, said the leaders hoped to use the summit at the end of this year, pledging to make their military carbon-neutral by 2050.
“Climate change is a multiplication of the crisis,” Stoltenberg said in an interview. “Climate change will lead to more extreme weather, drought, floods, people will be displaced, fiercer competition for scarce resources, water and land.”
For some time now, the military has incorporated climate change thinking into its planning, mainly in terms of how it will create new security risks and threaten their physical infrastructure. But really wide-ranging attention to the whole spectrum of climate and safety issues has become less common, especially the drive to eliminate emissions.
The gap partly reflects competing cultures. Climate change activists and experts do not tend to delve deeper into military issues. And military officers usually focus on operative training more than anything else. This can lead to blind spots. For example, militants control large areas of land but lag behind in thinking about sustainable land management.
Former Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg is a somewhat unusual figure who bridges the two worlds. Early in his career, he was the second commander-in-chief of his country’s environment minister. Most of Norway is above the Arctic, Some of the glaciers that Stoltenberg visited during his youth are now largely gone.
“You see the ice is melting,” he said.
His focus on climate change has become possible since President Biden took office after President Donald Trump’s four-year presidency, which he called climate change a “fraud,” threatened to pull the United States out of NATO altogether.
In the United States, the Biden administration has raised climate change as a national security priority, reviving the Obama-era focus on the impact of man-made change on the environment.
Already at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has set up a high-level working group on climate change, saying that the Department of Defense will include climate change in military planning and war games. In another turn, the Pentagon is likely to include climate change in its updated national defense strategy.
The effects of climate change pose particular challenges to the US military with its widespread global intelligence-security mission, sometimes linked to climate instability.
Military installations around the world, including the Virginia Naval Station in Norfolk, the US Naval Academy in Maryland, and the Lisburn Alaska Long Range Radar Station, are already affected by floods, droughts, and extreme temperature changes. Other facilities, such as Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, have been hit hard by hurricanes or wildfires.
Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, is a particularly dramatic example. Due to rising sea levels and changing ocean waves, floods are a constant feature of life, even when it is not raining. Residents sometimes can not move because the roads are in water. Water is regularly discharged into pipes and other infrastructure.
The former president’s hostility to environmental issues has puzzled Pentagon leaders as they sought to respond to the effects of the warming climate while clarifying a politically heated debate over why.
Most often, they did so by avoiding explicit references that might anger the White House. A Department of Defense report compiled during the Obama administration, for example, was amended under Trump to address much of climate change, instead referring to “extreme weather” or simply “climate” before presenting it to Congress in 2018.
At the same time, officials under Trump continued to work out plans to address the effects of rising sea levels on military installations, while leaders in uniform spoke of the need to address the insecurity that is partly fueled by climate change in places like Syria.
Stoltenberg notes that the green armed forces can also create opportunities. For example, fuel tankers, which aggravate dangerous routes to Afghanistan and Iraq, are one of the most dangerous vulnerabilities of those stationed in those countries. He said that the installation of solar panels, the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels, the increase of the autonomy of these bases is possible.
Biden Climate Envoy John Kerry met with Stoltenberg in Brussels earlier this month.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken acknowledged Stoltenberg’s climate pressure on Tuesday, saying “we share the vision of the Secretary-General of NATO, who has the ability to deter and protect himself from all kinds of threats to our collective security, including the threat of climate change.” »
Even the main discussions can make a cultural difference. Historically, the military has been the driving force behind technological change, and the Pentagon’s research team’s well-known inventor of the Internet. On climate change adaptation, it has been less, experts say.
One of the main challenges. The carbon footprint of the national armed forces does not tend to be public, which makes it difficult to even diagnose the scale of that area of work.
A recent analysis by the UK-based Conflict ետ Environmental Observatory found that the defense industry accounts for about 1.6 per cent of Britain’s national carbon footprint, 1 per cent of France, 0.8 per cent of Spain 0 0.5 per cent of Germany և The Italian Dis Request, ordered by a European political party in favor of disarmament and reducing military spending, acknowledges the difficulty of making the assessment. It does not contain numbers for the United States.
On climate issues, “this is an area that has not really caught on so far,” said Louise van Schaik, Head of EU Global Affairs at Klingendel, Netherlands. “The climate change community was not very aware of the amount of emissions from the army.”
Stoltenberg noted that NATO’s climate effort must be extended everywhere, from reducing emissions to preparing for more Arctic challenges, to designing uniforms to help troops withstand the 120-degree heat in Iraq. According to him, it may even lead to the slow removal of fossil fuel engines from military vehicles.
“We have to be radical in our thinking,” he said. “It would be very strange if we found ourselves in a world where civil society is unlikely to have fossil fuel vehicles, to have fossil fuel vehicles in the armed forces.”
Birnbaum reported from Riga, Latvia. Ryan reported from Washington.