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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.

The WCSR 2021 launch featured experts in the fields of climate security. In attendance were IMCCS Chair General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence of the Netherlands (Ret), Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence François Bausch, Former Deputy Secretary of NATO Rose Gottemoeller, IMCCS Secretary General Sherri Goodman, Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel, IMCCS Director Erin Sikorsky, and Climate Change and Sustainability Strategy Lead for the Ministry UK Richard Nugee.

General Middendorp opened the event by noting climate security is not just about the environment or security, but is instead a “whole society” problem. Natural disasters, increased inequality, biodiversity loss, infectious diseases, and forced displacement are all issues that are exacerbated by climate change. The realities of climate change are much more widely accepted than even five years back; however, climate experts state that acceptance is not enough. Countries must now take robust international action that will ensure that climate security risks in coming years are minimized.

The most immediate effects of climate change will appear as internal conflict in regions already at risk. However, as Minister Bausch emphasized, countries should also integrate climate changeeffects into defense policies, so that these defense policies contribute to the resiliency of nations around the world. 

In the panel discussion, Assistant Secretary General van Weel stated, and others agreed, that in order to address climate security, the defense sector must collaborate with the private sector, academia, and other organizations to an unprecedented extent. Ms. Sikorsky emphasized the necessity of “integrating robust tools with local perspectives,” meaning that international mechanisms must be used to manage this global crisis at the large scale; however, leaders must also listen to and incorporate observations and techniques from people experiencing the crisis on the ground. General Nugee emphasized that changes in military technology would be a necessity, and that these changes must be “incorporated into the DNA of defense” so that they could not be reversed in the future.

During the question and answer session, speakers discussed what they viewed as the most pertinent climate security risks in the Middle East and North Africa, including rises in temperatures and geopolitical shifts that could lead to conflict. One questioner asked for examples of progress already made, such as standardized military fuel systems for interoperability and more self-sufficient and energy-efficient military camps. Another major topic was using the military’s convening power to bring all parties, including civilian sectors, to the table and to leverage the R&D being done by non-military players.

The impact of the report was already apparent at the NATO Summit on 14 June, where the alliance adopted a formal Climate Action Plan for the first time. At the WCSR launch event, Ms. Gottemoeller expressed optimism that going forward, NATO will be a “very positive and energetic partner” in applying the strategies and information given in the report to action plans for some of the world’s leading nations. And as Minister Bausch mentioned, the report will also likely play a large role in the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) later this year, where a greater portion of the world’s players will meet to strategize on how to best confront growing climate threats.

In the long-term, this report will be invaluable for helping set realistic goals and transitioning both the defense sector and society in general away from systems that exacerbate climate security risks. It can be a  guide for countries towards a more sustainable, equitable, and peaceful framework for current and future generations. As Ms. Goodman put it, the report will “raise ambition and action to decarbonize economies and understand and reduce the risks of climate security threats to create a better future for us all.”

Danice Ball and Lily Feldman are interns with the Center for Climate and Security, an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks.

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