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Event Summary: Implications for NATO of Climate Security Scenarios in the Balkans

An exercise conducted with the Halifax Peace with Women Fellowship 2023

By Lily Boland

On October 30, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) led a scenario exercise on climate security for the new class of the Halifax Peace with Women Fellowship, which convenes senior female military leaders from NATO and partner countries for a 3-week executive tour of the political and technological capitals of the United States and Canada. The exercise sought to socialize a better understanding of how climate change hazards shape security risks in a region of importance to the NATO alliance (in this case, the Balkans) and help identify ways in which NATO, partner countries, and their militaries can better prepare for and prevent these risks. Participants included the fellows class along with officials from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Force Education & Training and Office of Arctic and Global Resilience.


China and Ecological Security: The seeds of conflict, or the roots of détente?

By Michael R. Zarfos

As China and the United States continue to compete in many domains, ecological security may be an opportunity for cooperation. China’s impact on ecological security internally and externally can either be a geopolitical liability or a source of legitimacy. Together, these titanic countries could spur a reformation of global governance around agriculture, and trade in wild animals and plants. Such cooperation could improve food security and resilience while boosting sustainability and combating the climate and biodiversity crises–not to mention reducing the possibility of regional or global conflict.


The Interdependence of Climate Security and Good Governance: A Case Study from Pakistan

By Ameera Adil and Faraz Haider

Last year, Pakistan faced the most devastating floods in the history of the country, which is notable because the country lies on a geographical floodplain. The Indus is an ancient and powerful river. The floodplain of the river covers nearly half of Pakistan, where most of the country’s population resides. When the Indus breathes, as rivers do, the lives and livelihoods on the floodplains are quietly absorbed by the water. 

Climate change had a significant role to play in the 2022 floods. The affected areas received 900mm of rainfall between June to August, which is nearly 350 percent more than the long-term average. Nevertheless, the disaster that happened should not have been a surprise since climate-induced disaster projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been repeatedly stating the increase in frequency and severity of floods. Climate change alone was not the only cause of the devastation, however. Poor governance also played a role increating a cascade of security impacts that can still be witnessed at the moment of writing and have now been conjoined with other dynamics of political instability, resulting  in a chasm of insecurities. To unpack this, it is crucial to consider the dynamics of inequalities and discrepancies of governance in Pakistan, and the chain of events from before, during and after the 2022 floods.

Anyone wishing to understand climate injustice needs only to look at Pakistan.The homes that housed the poor were washed away while those that housed the wealthy stood their ground. As a result of these floods, an additional 8.4 to 9.1 million people will now be pushed into poverty, on top of the existing 47 million. As the worsening socioeconomic situation intersects with political instability and recent protests, that have now decreased due to a strict clampdown by the Pakistani government, the conditions are ripe for further social unrest. 

Though climate change caused the extreme rains, the subsequent inequality of the impact of these rains is evidence of the deep underlying socioeconomic disparity and complex issues of governance that are revealed with every climate-induced calamity that Pakistanis endure. Climate change hazards interact with the fault lines in Pakistan’s governance system and practices to multiply threats. Therefore, to attribute all of this only to climate change would be inappropriate and lacking a comprehensive view.


August 2023 Update: Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) Tracker 

By Tom Ellison, Erin Sikorsky, and Michael Zarfos

In August 2023, the Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) tracker identified 19 countries in which militaries were deployed in response to climate hazards, often multiple times to different regions and types of hazard. The tracker identified 35 incidents total. 

In the United States, the devastating wildfire in Maui resulted in one of the largest military deployments in response to a single hazard in recent years, which the military has sustained for more than a month. The disaster was the most lethal U.S. wildfire in a century, exceeding the annual deaths from terrorism in the United States in any year since 9/11. The fires prompted the creation of a U.S. Department of Defense task force to coordinate contributions from all U.S. armed forces branches and the National Guard, which have totaled nearly 600 personnel. In support of FEMA, the task force has provided relief services including water and fuel distribution, search and recovery, air and sea transportation, mortuary and forensic services, and facility usage. 

The crisis has attracted disinformation as well, such as a false claim that the military had arrested the head of FEMA in the wake of the disaster, Chinese government disinformation that the fires were caused by a U.S. “weather weapon,” and Russian claims that U.S. aid to Ukraine had undermined wildfire response.

The Maui wildfire underscored the fact that militaries are responding to hazards that reflect not only climate change, but broader ecological disruption as well. The fires were likely more destructive because of invasive species (an example of a biotic eruption) and insufficient environmental management. Grasses intentionally introduced in the late 1700s likely contributed to the fires through the buildup of flammable biomass in abandoned post-agricultural lands, which also spread into populated communities. There were many warnings about the risks posed by these invasive grasses prior to the fire, but lack of regulation, resources and urgency confounded efforts to reduce the grasses’ density and to exclude them from populated areas. Further, on Maui, decades of water diversion from streams supporting agriculture and development contributed to a drying of the land, increasing fire risk.

Meanwhile, responses to severe climate hazards prompted thorny political questions. In Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) continued to assist firefighting and evacuations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The summer’s extreme weather prompted one retired Canadian military leader to call for a new national emergency response agency to minimize the burden on the CAF. In China in early August, thousands of People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police personnel conducted evacuations during flooding from the landfall of Typhoon Doksuri, and a decision to divert flood waters to parts of Hebei Province to protect Beijing prompted anger at the government. (For more on the dynamics in China, see our analysis here).

Elsewhere, climate-driven hazards led neighbors to help neighbors, both in the United States and internationally. A wildfire in Louisiana drew in National Guard troops from as far away as Minnesota, while the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated for the second time this summer in Greece in response to wildfires. Many countries that deploy in support of the mechanism do so via their militaries, especially smaller countries like Croatia. According to the European Commission, the August fires in Greece were the largest fires ever seen in the EU.