NATO must combat climate change
Op-ed article by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Growing up in Norway, I learnt in school that temperatures in Svalbard, arctic home of the polar bear, would hardly ever rise above freezing. But this year, thermostats in Svalbard reached a record 21.7 degrees. And this is just the latest peak in a pattern of rising temperature that is turning sea ice to slush and is melting the Norwegian permafrost.
We all know examples like this. Of a warming climate melting the ice caps, causing droughts, giant storms and forest fires. The facts of climate change are undeniable, and the situation is getting worse.
I have been passionate about climate change all of my life. My first job in government was as Deputy Environment Minister, and I had the privilege of serving as UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. Now, as NATO Secretary General, it is my responsibility to address the threat climate change poses to our shared security.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As the planet heats up, our weather becomes wilder, warmer, windier and wetter, putting communities under pressure as sources of food, fresh water and energy are threatened.
We can see this today in the Sahel region of Africa, where climate change is driving migration. In the Arctic where as the ice melts, geopolitical tensions heat up. Or here in Europe, where record-breaking floods and wildfires increase year on year.
Climate change threatens our security. So NATO must do more to fully understand and integrate climate change into our all aspects of our work, from our military planning to how we exercise and train our armed forces.
Climate change also makes it harder for NATO troops to keep people safe. Our soldiers work in some of the most difficult environments on earth. For example, NATO’s training mission in Iraq where, this summer, temperatures regularly exceeded 50 degrees. Imagine just being in that heat, let alone coming under fire while wearing full combat gear.
It is essential that we adapt to this new reality. That means better combat gear, vehicles and infrastructure. And it means explicitly including climate change in NATO’s work to improve the resilience of Allies and partners, something that we have been doing for decades in areas like infrastructure.
NATO must also be prepared to react to climate-related disasters just as we have during the COVID-19 crisis. This year, NATO countries have delivered hundreds of tons of medical equipment around the world, set up almost a hundred field hospitals and transported patients and medical staff.
NATO and its member countries also have a responsibility to help reduce climate change by producing fewer emissions without compromising our core tasks. We have long focused on fuel efficiency to improve our military effectiveness. Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, for instance by using solar panels to power military camps, will not just help combat climate change, it can make our troops and equipment more secure, by improving our ability to operate independently and flexibly.
Members of the NATO Alliance are taking a lead with plans to cut emissions from our armed forces through initiatives such as using biofuels, developing hybrid vehicles and improving the energy efficiency of bases and other infrastructure.
As many countries increasingly plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, NATO can also do more to help our armed forces contribute to this goal. It is time for NATO to raise its ambition and help drive down emissions. A first step could be to help our members measure their military emissions. The next step could be to agree voluntary cuts in their carbon emissions.
Climate change is making the world more dangerous. NATO’s task is to preserve peace and keep us safe. So to fulfil our main responsibility, NATO must help to curb climate change for our security today and for the security of future generations.
This article was first published by German newspaper Die Welt on 27 September 2020.