Climate change has never been very prominent at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), a leading forum for senior military, security and foreign policy leaders. That changed this year, with the release of the “World Climate and Security Report 2020” by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) – an international network administered by the Center for Climate and Security, in partnership with a consortium of organizations. The report featured prominently on the MSC stage – at the opening “Hashtag Event” on February 13 and in a later event on the Main Stage on February 15 – which even featured strong U.S. bipartisan support for comprehensive policies combating climate change. These events included powerful contributions from General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, and former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands. These were reinforced by other IMCCS voices during the World Climate and Security Report 2020 side event on February 15, in the media, and by senior defense leaders and IMCCS staff in Luxembourg. Below is a description of the key climate security events during this extraordinary three days – three days of climate change being elevated, as it should be, to some of the highest levels of the international security discourse. The next step will be translating this discourse into actions that are commensurate to the threat.
On the eve of the MSC’s main conference, an opening “Hashtag Event” was held on climate change and security, titled “Apocalypse Now? Climate and Security.” See the full video below. At the event, retired General Tom Middendorp, Chair of the IMCCS, announced the release of the World Climate and Security Report 2020. The event featured senior international leaders, including John Kerry (former U.S. Secretary of State), Ban Ki-moon (Former Secretary General of the UN), Helga Maria Schmid (Secretary General, European External Action Service), General (Ret) Tom Middendorp (Chair, International Military Council on Climate and Security, former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands), and Edith Kimani, News Anchor at Deutsche Welle.
The panel video above is worth watching in full, but for those particularly interested in General Middendorp‘s contributions, we have transcribed those below:
43:42: General Middendorp: “…I come from a different angle. I’m not a politician. I don’t work on the world level. I come from the field. I’ve been in the military for forty years of my life. I’ve seen many conflicts. I’ve been in the Cold War period, and I’ve been in many crisis areas. And I represent a new voice at this table, and that’s the voice of the Generals, the Admirals and security experts. And what I see now is a movement. They are linking up with each other. The network that we are building – the IMCCS network that I represent – is a network of many experts, senior military and civilian. And they link up because of one concern. And that concern is the future of this planet, and that concern is about the impact of climate change. That brings them together. They have seen what climate change can do. They have seen, in conflicts, that water shortages create tensions in populations. They have seen that droughts push people away from their homelands and from their farmlands, and forces those people into the cities, into refugee camps, or into the hands of extremists. They have seen the impacts of natural disasters wiping away complete islands, destroying all the infrastructure. And they see the impact of the Arctic melting away and opening up a new geopolitical arena – and they are concerned. So for this group, climate change is a matter of global security. And I see more and more of these voices within the military and the security community coming up.
And what we did is we organized this network and we created the first annual World Climate and Security Report. And we looked at the different regions in the world and assessed “How does climate change impact security in these regions?”
What they see, for instance in the Indo-Asian region, is there is an increased risk of flooding. There is a lot of population, mega-cities, tens of millions of people living in cities along rivers, on coastlines, threatened by flooding and by sea level rise. We see glaciers melting, and the melting of glaciers threatens the availability of drinking water for hundreds of millions of people. So you can imagine the impact that that will have also on security. In the Americas, we see many increasing severe and extreme weather incidents. Wildfires, flooding, hurricanes – especially in the northern part of there – but we also see in the central and southern part of the Americas, we see fragility coming up more because of shortages of water. And Africa is, of course, to me Africa is the canary in the coalmine. Africa is what we are going to see wider in the world. In Africa, the droughts are exactly doing what I just described. They are pushing people away from the farmlands. They are pushing the herders, the farmers away into other areas. And that brings flows of people, and that also opens opportunities for other groupings like organized crime that do a lot of trafficking through those areas, and for extremist groups. So we are very concerned about this. And also concerned about the geopolitical impact. Because the Arctic area melting away opens up a new arena for geopolitical conflict. There are a lot of resources there in the ground, and we are already witnessing a run on resources there.”
1:15:24: General Middendorp: “I think what we understand from this discussion is a great call for action. I think we all agree on that. It’s that we are facing a whole-of-society problem. And I think the military and the security community should be part of the solution. And I think there is a lot that they can do. They can do a lot in a preventive way. They can help in early warning. We’ve got great intelligence services looking at the same fragile countries that we are looking at from a climate angle, so why not link them up, and why not join those massive efforts that are being done there to come to a better understanding of what is going on?
I think that the military can help be a platform for innovation. Many of the innovations that Secretary Kerry just mentioned are also being incorporated in the military. And they have a history of being innovative and adaptive, so why not use them – why not use that strength to build new technologies? To help develop new technologies? I think they can bring that too. But most of all we need to ‘climate-proof’ our policies, our plans and our capabilities. And that’s internally: climate-proof so that we can work in new climate environments – but also towards fragile countries. So all the efforts we put into fragile countries – look at those efforts through climate eyes. And make sure that those plans contribute to solving the problem – contribute to building resilience in those countries. And also the military can work there. We have learned over the last ten years to work more closely together with the development people, with the diplomats, to come to more comprehensive approaches, and to work on that together. And this climate-proofing is what we all need to do in all the stovepipes. All the agencies, all departments need to look at their plans through the eyes of climate, and what can I contribute to solving the problem. And last but not least, I think that in the military we should use climate knowledge more in our training and our education to make people more aware. And I think there the military can help. They bring a professional voice to the table – a not political voice. So they can help build this awareness, they can building this understanding, and this sense of urgency.”
1:38:43: General Middendorp: “Well, I think they (big tech companies and the military) can be a driver of change. They have a major role to play. As I said, it’s a whole-of-society problem, so we need the companies, we need the tech companies, to step into this to start making the change. And I see big chemical companies already making a change towards more circular production of their products. And I think these industries can drive that change. And I also think that the military and the UN and NATO they should lead by example also in military operations. I’ve been in Mali, and it’s a big UN operation. The first thing we do there, we build a super-camp. The first thing we do in that super-camp is we drill holes in the ground to extract groundwater. And what happens? The villages in the neighborhood run dry. So that’s the impact that we have in this moment. The biggest fossil fuel consumer in any country is the military. So we have a responsibility to take. And I think it’s a giant opportunity for the military to work together with these kind of companies to develop these new technologies. The biggest cost-driver in any mission is logistics. The biggest risk factor in any mission is logistics. If you can become more self-sustaining in your operations you can reduce that risk, you can reduce those costs, and you can put your money where it belongs, and that is bringing stability. So I think there is a lot to gain here. You can contribute to emissions reductions, and at the same time improve your operational effectiveness by finding these kinds of combinations.”
1:56:13: General Middendorp: “We have one open question. You asked about ‘Why do we need a military?’ And ‘Can’t we put that money that we pay to the military – can’t we put that to these kinds of efforts?’ And I wish that was true. To be honest, I would sacrifice my life for a world where we wouldn’t need a military. I have been in many conflicts, and I have seen the price of conflicts. And I would give my hand if we can avoid conflicts. So the more we can make our ourselves abundant, the better it is to me. But in reality, there is friction. And especially in fragile states when security levels and security institutions are poor, you see that friction easily flame up into conflicts. And climate is accelerating that. And that’s why we need the military. I think the military is needed to help build that resilience that we are looking for, also in regard to climate change. If I look at all the missions that I have done, 90% or more were preventive in nature. It was just to safeguard a situation from not escalating. Make sure that parties stayed put and they didn’t go to fight. And that’s what the military can bring. Because if you look at the impacts of climate change, we see more scarcity. And scarcity is a source of friction and conflict. And I think the military needs to help to make sure that we become more resilient to deal with these kinds of challenges.”
On February 14, the IMCCS team – including General Tom Middendorp, Captain Steve Brock, USN (Ret), Chief of Staff of the IMCCS, and Kate Guy, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and the IMCCS – was invited to Luxembourg by the country’s Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, François Bausch, to brief the Luxembourg press and three parliamentary committees on the security risks of climate change, and the findings of the World Climate and Security Report 2020. The Luxembourg government is working to raise the prioritization of climate security within EU and NATO institutions, and plans to use the findings of the Report to further communicate around these issues.
These engagements led to a number of news stories, including television and print interviews, in the national press. The day also included interviews with the Secretary General of the IMCCS, the Honorable Sherri Goodman, and the Chair of the IMCCS, General Tom Middendorp. See below for the highlights.