Environmental security

  • Last updated: 24 Oct. 2011 17:42

Based on a broad definition of security that recognizes the importance of political, economic, social and environmental factors, NATO is addressing security challenges emanating from the environment. This includes extreme weather conditions, depletion of natural resources, pollution and so on – factors that can ultimately lead to disasters, regional tensions and violence.

The Alliance is looking closely at how to best address environmental risks to security in general as well as those that directly impact military activities. For example, environmental factors can affect energy supplies to both populations and military operations, making energy security a major topic of concern. Helping partner countries clean up ageing and dangerous stockpiles of weapons, ammunition and unexploded remnants of war that pose a risk to people and the environment is yet another area of work.

NATO is currently conducting these initiatives via its science programme, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) and Partnership for Peace Trust Fund projects. It is considering enhancing its efforts in this area, with a focus on civil emergencies, energy efficiency and renewable power, and on helping member and partner countries address the impact of climate change in vulnerable regions.

Building international cooperation

Since 1969, NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme has supported cooperative activities that tackle environmental issues, including those that are related to defence, in NATO countries. Since the SPS Programme opened up to partner countries in the 1990s, environmental security became the most active topic supported by the Programme.

For example in April 2010, a NATO Science workshop in Moscow addressed environmental security and “eco-terrorism”, while a workshop in Cairo looked at food security and safety against terrorist threats and natural disasters.

The first international answer to environmental security challenges, however, came in 2004, when NATO joined five other international agencies to form the Environment and Security (ENVSEC) Initiative1 to address environmental issues that threaten security in vulnerable regions. The five other agencies are: the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC).

In Central Asia, NATO is leading ENVSEC projects to address uranium waste in the Ferghana Valley (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) and water resources management for wetlands restoration in the Aral Sea basin (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), among others.

Boosting emergency response

The Alliance is also actively engaged in coordinating civil emergency planning and response to environmental disasters. It does this principally through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EARDCC) that was launched following the earthquake disaster in Turkey and Greece at the end of the 1990s.

Talking at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, NATO’s Secretary General highlighted that, with the growing impact of climate change, the demand upon the military as “first responder to natural disasters” was likely to grow. He urged Allies to consider how to optimize the Alliance’s contribution in that area.

Addressing defence-related environmental issues

In October 2009, the Science for Peace and Security Committee established the Defence and the Environment Experts Group (DEEG). The group’s overarching objective is to develop an environmental agenda to promote the identification, development and dissemination of cost-effective and innovative approaches to environmental and sustainability issues that affect military activities.

Meeting twice yearly, the DEEG examines and approves project proposals from individuals or groups from NATO member and partner. The projects focus on areas such as infrastructure and property issues arising from the management of defence estates, and the impact on soldiers of climatic and biological threats. In practice, the emphasis has been on projects and initiatives that affect deployed operations, such as streamlining the environmental footprint of military compounds to maximise cost savings and tactical advantage, while minimising negative impacts on the environment.

Energy security

With increasingly unpredictable natural disasters, such as earthquakes, severe floods and storms that causes disruptions to infrastructure, environmental factors have a growing potential to affect energy security, a challenge NATO is becoming more and more concerned with. Most NATO members and partners rely on energy supplies from abroad, sent through pipelines and cables that cross many borders. Allies and partners, therefore, need to work together to develop ways of reducing the threat of disruptions, including those caused by environmental events.

At the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit in April 2009, Allies said they will “consult on the most immediate risks in the field of energy security”. They said they would continue to implement the recommendations proposed at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, namely to share information, advance international and regional cooperation, develop consequence management, and help protect critical infrastructure.

Helping partners reduce environmental hazards through disarmament

Through NATO’s Partnership for Peace Trust Fund projects, the Alliance helps partner countries reduce their aging weapon stockpiles, clean up deteriorating rocket fuel, clear land contaminated by unexploded remnants of war and safely store ammunition. While the central aim is to help post-Soviet countries disarm and reform their militaries, these projects also reduce the risks posed by these dangerous materials to the environment and the people in surrounding areas.

Raising awareness and information-sharing

Communicating the security implications of environmental issues to political leaders and decision-makers is another area where the Alliance plays a major role. For instance, it makes sure that members and partners alike have the knowledge and skills needed to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.

1. The ENVSEC Initiative was established in 2003 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). NATO became an associate member in 2004, through its Public Diplomacy Division. Recently, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) joined.