NATO body warns strong climate deal needed to protect global security


Faced with the mounting security threat of climate change, senior representatives from NATO states are adding their voice to the growing call for action ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris this December. In a resolution set to be approved by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly today, 250 senior members of parliament from member states warn that “climate-change related risks are significant threat multipliers”. They call on governments to incorporate those risks into their foreign and security policies, and to help deliver an ambitious climate agreement in Paris in order to better safeguard international security in future.


Key Points

  • Climate change is now a mainstream security issue. Today’s resolution calls on NATO to increase its own consultations on climate change, and examine how security strategies can take such risks into account. It reflects a growing understanding of the risks posed by our changing climate. UK and US military officials have long integrated climate threats into security planning and earlier this year, G7 foreign ministers also recognised that climate change “poses a threat to the environment, to global security and economic prosperity“.


Faced with mounting security threats related to climate change, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is urging NATO governments to back ambitious global climate agreement at the UN climate talks in Paris this December. In a resolution to be passed at its annual session, today, 250 members of parliament from NATO member states are also calling on the 28 Alliance members to better recognise climate change risk in their own foreign and security policies. Stating that “climate-change related risks are significant threat multipliers that will shape the security environment in areas of concern to the Alliance” the resolution urges NATO government  to enhance planning for climate risks; make a greater commitment to green defence policies; and intensify co-operation with partners in the Arctic, Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and other regions particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Climate change is already posing a significant risk to security, as temperature rise, rainfall patterns change and intensifying extreme weather events increase competition for food and water supplies, change migration patterns and refugee flows and threaten public health. Such impacts could also further exacerbate existing tensions in social structures, including undermining weak governance, increasing inequality and amplifying animosities between social groups – in turn “increasing the risk of violent conflict”. Events like the 2011 Arab Spring, and the ongoing Syrian conflictwhich mounting evidence shows were exacerbated by food insecurity and drought – show that climate change can catalyse unpredictable political developments. And while climate change increases the risk of security threats, it also undermines the military’s ability to respond to such threats, provide humanitarian assistance, stabilise fragile regions and otherwise operate in a changing environment. Projected impacts of climate change are expected to harm critical infrastructure including coastal military bases, roads, rail lines, refineries, and energy transmission lines.

With the risks apparent, climate change is already a mainstream issue within security circles, particularly in the UK and the US, with many senior figures speaking out on the issue. US Secretary of State John Kerry famously labelled climate change the “world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” last year, with the UK’s Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti has warned leaders they can no longer afford to ignore the risks posed by climate change. Risk experts in Germany’s army have also warned that climate change should be treated as a foreign policy issue rather than an environmental one while the US Defense Department has begun to consider impacts of climate change on day-to-day activities.

The US and UK, particularly, have long seen climate change as a major threat to national and global security. In 2008 in the US, the National Defense Authorization Act saw the Bush administration require all defence agencies to consider the effects of climate change in future strategic policy development, while President Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy and the Quadrennial Defense Reviews of 2010 and 2014 developed the US stance on climate and security further. This year, the 2015 US National Security Strategy identified climate change as a top-level strategic risk to US interests, listing it alongside other risks like “catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland or critical infrastructure… global economic crisis… proliferation and/or use of weapons of mass destruction” and “severe global infectious disease outbreaks”. It states that securing a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a key step towards protecting the US’s future security.

The UK identified climate change as a significant risk to national security in its 2008 National Security Strategy, which identified climate change as “potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security, and therefore to national security.” The 2014 MOD report Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045 details the likely impacts of climate change on the security environment over the next thirty years including food shortages and other resource constraints with the potential to destabilise communities and increase migration, security forces being called upon more frequently to render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, intensified competition over some resources, and “the exacerbation of existing political and security tensions, which could potentially act as a catalyst for intra- and interstate conflict”.

Earlier this year, the G7 Foreign Ministers also recognised that climate change “poses a threat to the environment, to global security and economic prosperity“. As a result, the ministers set up a working group exploring the recommendations submitted by a consortium of think tanks in the G7-commissioned report “A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks”.

Today’s NATO resolution carries a clear message for governments. It calls on leaders to address the security threats of climate change by backing an “ambitious” global climate agreement when they meet in Paris this December. Such an agreement should keep “the rise in global average temperature to below 1.5DegC or 2DegC above preindustrial levels” – beyond which scientists say dangerous climate impacts would be unavoidable – and should include “regular reviews to encourage states to raise their ambitions”. Lord Jopling, vice-president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and former UK Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: “far too often, governments promise grand commitments, but when you examine them later, very little is done about it.” The call from the security world adds growing weight to the global chorus of voices from all walks of life – including faith leaders, business leaders, investors, workers and communities across the globe – calling for strong climate action ahead of the UN climate talks to be held in Paris this December.

Although non-binding for Alliance governments and NATO itself, the Assembly’s resolutions are influential in shaping policy. Jens Stoltenberg, who was UN Special Envoy on Climate Change until being appointed NATO Secretary General, will lay out in writing his thoughts on the resolution by the end of 2015.




Tools and Resources

Key Quotes

  • “If the world wants to stop irreversible damage to the planet, all governments must agree in Paris to clear, fair, and ambitious targets to reduce emissions…”The security of Alliance members is at stake Climate change is increasing the risk of violent conflict by exacerbating known sources of conflict, like poverty and economic shocks. The time to act is now.”” – French Parliamentarian Philippe Vitel, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Rapporteur of the Science and Technology Committee.
  • “We need legally binding rules with regular reviews to encourage states to raise their ambitions. Far too often, governments promise grand commitments, but when you examine them later, very little is done about it.” – Lord Jopling, Vice-President of the NATO PA and former UK Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  • “In Paris, our governments must take actions that they will not regret in a few years’ time. We cannot have a repeat of Copenhagen 2009. And that means we need a real commitment to keep the rise in global average temperature to below 1.5° or 2°C above preindustrial levels.” – Baroness Ramsay, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee and Member of the UK House of Lords
  • “Addressing the pressing security challenges NATO is facing today, especially around the southern and eastern flanks of the Alliance, must be the immediate priority. But, at the same time, to be an effective security organisation there needs to be an eye to future threats. Amongst these threats is the impact of a changing climate, including the risks posed to geopolitical stability and global wellbeing. Indeed, there is compelling evidence to show that a prolonged period of extreme drought has contributed to the current conflict in Syria, with the attendant mass movement of people within the region and beyond.” – Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti
  • “Now is the time for alliance members to demonstrate, both collectively and as individual nations, their commitment to reducing the security risks posed by a changing climate. Paris provides NATO members with the opportunity to show leadership in addressing one of the greatest challenges that we face in the 21st century. Failure to act will likely result in a more unstable world, one that will require NATO forces to be deployed, not just in a humanitarian role but also conflict prevention and, ultimately, conflict resolution.” – Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti   
  • “The call to NATO members by its Parliamentary Assembly comes at a key time as world leaders prepare to decide upon a collective response to climate change. Growing competition for natural resources, heightened migration pressures, erratic water and food availability, and increasingly frequent natural disasters are just a few of the ways that humanitarian impact from climate change is transforming the security agenda. Exacerbating conflict, changing livelihoods and forcing people into poverty, its bite is already being felt. It is imperative that we see a strong, coordinated response across borders.” – Lieutenant General Tariq Waseem Ghazi, a member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) and former Defense Secretary of Pakistan
  • “The UN’s climate summit at the end of November is the time for action to ensure we have a lasting, just and meaningful global deal on climate action. World governments have varying but shared responsibilities to ensure not just the conservation of our planet, but also prosperity for their people. Just as NATO’s leaders have been urged to demonstrate the leadership required, so too should militaries around the world more fully recognise the significance of security risks from climate change. If future conflicts due to pressures created by climate change events are to be prevented, global initiatives need to be put in place now.” – Lieutenant General Tariq Waseem Ghazi, a member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) and former Defense Secretary of Pakistan

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