NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan

  • 14 Jun. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 16-Jun-2021 08:21

Impact of climate change on security 

1. Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our times. It is a threat multiplier that impacts Allied security, both in the Euro-Atlantic area and in the Alliance’s broader neighbourhood.

2. Climate change makes it harder for militaries to carry out their tasks. Greater temperature extremes, sea level rise, rapid changes in precipitation patterns, and an increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events test the resilience of our military installations and critical infrastructure, impair the effectiveness of our capabilities, and may create harsher conditions for our military operations and missions. 

3. The effects of climate change shape our geopolitical environment and may influence state behaviour. For example, thawing permafrost, desertification, and the opening up of new shipping lanes are factors that can contribute to increased instability and geostrategic competition.

4. The implications of climate change include drought, soil erosion and marine environmental degradation. These can lead to famine, floods, loss of land and livelihood, and have a disproportionate impact on women and girls as well as on poor, vulnerable or marginalized populations, as well as potentially exacerbate state fragility, fuel conflicts, and lead to displacement, migration, and human mobility, creating conditions that can be exploited by state and non-state actors that threaten or challenge the Alliance.  

Context for the Alliance

5. NATO has been addressing environmental challenges for over half a century, initially mostly from a science and research perspective. Since the turn of the century, a number of environmental standards and guidelines have been developed. Climate change featured in the 2010 Strategic Concept, a Green Defence framework was adopted in 2014, and climate issues were highlighted in Summit Statements since Lisbon 2010. However, further work and sustained political ambition is needed to ensure that NATO is fully prepared to continue to deliver in a changing climate.

6. As parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and signatories of the Paris Agreement, NATO Allies have recognized the need for an effective and progressive response to the urgent threat of climate change, and subscribed to the goal to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. In recent years, NATO Allies have stepped up their ambition and are taking concrete action, at national level and through coordinated efforts in a United Nations and European Union context, where applicable, to realize a transition towards durable sustainability.

7. Although NATO is not the first responder for every challenge related to climate change, the Alliance has a role to play in a comprehensive response to climate change. NATO also has to take into account the impact of climate change on security to successfully fulfil its three core tasks of collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security.

A NATO Agenda on Climate Change and Security

8. On 23-24 March 2021, NATO Foreign Ministers endorsed NATO’s Climate Change and Security Agenda. It provides a 360-degree approach and encompasses measures to increase both NATO’s and Allies’ awareness of the impact of climate change on security, along with developing clear adaptation and mitigation measures, and enhanced outreach, while ensuring a credible deterrence and defence posture and upholding the priorities of the safety of military personnel and operational and cost effectiveness. This approach capitalizes on existing initiatives, structures and mechanisms, enhances and brings coherence to ongoing efforts, and identifies new policies and tools, where needed. It will allow NATO to respond to the impact of climate change on security within the framework of its mandate and purpose. Climate change and security is also an integral part of the NATO 2030 decisions taken by Heads of State and Government at the 2021 Brussels Summit.

Taking Forward NATO’s Agenda on Climate Change and Security

9. This Action Plan sets out the framework for delivering on NATO’s Agenda on Climate Change and Security, to contribute to NATO’s three core tasks and guarantee the security of the Alliance. The Action Plan comprises specific goals for the Alliance, as well as tasks for NATO as an organization along with a mechanism to ensure monitoring, visibility and Allied ownership. As part of this Action Plan NATO will:

9.1. First, increase Allied awareness. To this end, NATO will conduct an annual Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment. This Assessment will analyse the impact of climate change on NATO’s strategic environment and NATO’s assets, installations, missions and operations. To support this work, NATO will also integrate climate change considerations into security risk and resilience assessments and civil advice on the security situation in regions of key interest to the Alliance. In addition, NATO will leverage its science and technology programmes and communities to support research on the impact of climate change on security, including gender perspectives in the context of NATO’s Women, Peace and Security policy.

9.2. Second, adapt to climate change. NATO will, building on its assessments, incorporate climate change considerations into its work on resilience, civil preparedness, defence planning, capability delivery, assets and installations, standards, innovation, training, exercises, and disaster response. NATO will also address the need to adapt its capabilities to the changing climate more prominently in its procurement practices and its partnership with industry. NATO will also assess how climate change might impact its deterrence and defence posture, including readiness, enablement, reinforcement, and military mobility.

9.3. Third, contribute to the mitigation of climate change. The Alliance will develop a NATO mapping and analytical methodology of greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and installations. This methodology will help Allies’ own emission assessment programmes and could contribute to formulating voluntary goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the military. Furthermore, data on energy demand and consumption in the military could inform Allies’ investment decisions, help define the role of Emerging Disruptive Technologies and innovative energy efficient and sustainable technologies, as well as inform operational planning. In developing the methodology, NATO will draw on the best practice of Allies, and can also leverage expertise from partner nations and other international organizations, including the EU. NATO will also study the feasibility of scaling up innovative low carbon technologies through its own procurement practices.

9.4. Fourth, enhance outreach. NATO will strengthen exchanges with partner countries, as well as with international and regional organizations that are active on climate change and security issues, including the EU, the UN, and others, where appropriate. NATO will also increase dialogue with civil society, academia and industry on climate change and security issues, to support its work and contribute to the global response to climate change.

10. To track the progress made, re-assess the level of ambition, and inform the way ahead, the first Climate Change and Security Progress Report will be delivered at the 2022 Summit.