NATO and the security implications of climate change

Virtual speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

  • 28 Sep. 2020 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 29 Sep. 2020 11:43

(As delivered)

Thank you so much Rector Wegener.
It’s a great pleasure to meet you again. And this is actually the first time I have addressed so many students across so many countries at the same time. And I am really delighted to be together with all of you today.

NATO has been the most successful alliance in history. Because we have been able to adapt as the world changed.
But we need to ensure that we continue to change. So we have launched what we call NATO 2030.
This is about how we can shape NATO to better meet the challenges of the future.
Like cyber, disruptive technologies and the shifting global balance of power.

Young people have the greatest stake in our future. And I look forward to your views and questions on all these subjects.
But today I will focus my remarks on climate change.
I have been passionate about climate change policy for many years.
My first job in government – 30 years ago – was as Deputy Minister for the Environment in Norway. After 10 years serving as Prime Minister of Norway, I had the privilege of serving as UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. And now, as Secretary General of NATO, I am concerned with how climate change affects our security. 
NATO was established over 70 years ago. Our main task has been to preserve peace by making it clear that any attack on any ally is regarded as an attack on all allies.
Based on the principle of one for all and all for one, we have been able to prevent any military attack against any ally.
But unlike a military attack, climate change cannot be completely prevented. It is happening right now. 
So it’s even more important that we do everything we can to limit the warming of our planet. And that we adapt.
Some may ask if NATO, a military alliance, should be concerned with climate change. My answer is that yes, we should. And for three reasons.
Because climate change makes the world more dangerous.
Because it makes it harder for our military forces to keep our people safe.
And because we all have a responsibility to do more to combat climate change.

Let me set out how I think NATO should deal with each of these three points.

First, climate change is making the world more dangerous.
The weather is becoming wilder, warmer, windier and wetter. Drought, floods and other extremes make life increasingly more difficult for people around the world. Fuelling conflict. Exacerbating threats. And adding pressure on natural resources like food, water and power.
You can see this in the Sahel region of Africa. Where drought places further stress on communities, creates fertile ground for terrorists, and drives migration.
You can see it in the Arctic, where geo-political competition is heating up as the ice melts.

And in our own countries, where our armed forces are increasingly called upon to rescue people from floods or wild fires.
There is no doubt that climate change affects our security. So it is essential that NATO monitors and tracks what is happening much more closely. And that we fully integrate climate change into our military planning and exercises.

The second reason climate change matters to NATO is because it makes it harder for our militaries to keep our people safe. NATO troops are often exposed to the world’s most hazardous and difficult environments. On land or at sea, from the desert to the jungle. Whether engaged in combat operations, training or disaster relief. 
For instance in Iraq, where NATO has a training mission. This summer, temperatures in Bagdad soared above 50 degrees Centigrade. That’s over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Just imagine being in that heat – let alone wearing full combat gear! It quickly becomes impossible for anybody to function. 
And it’s not only people that don’t work properly in extremes. It’s equipment too.
In Afghanistan, the UK had to replace some of its helicopter engines because they simply couldn’t cope with the heat.
Climate change doesn’t only affect how we operate, but also where we operate. Much of our critical infrastructure is exposed.
For example, the US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, home to one of NATO’s strategic commands, suffers from regular and extensive flooding. Major European ports like Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg face similar challenges.
To remain effective, we must adapt.
This means uniforms, vehicles, equipment and infrastructure that can protect our troops. And help them in their job of keeping us safe.
We already work with our 30 member countries across Europe and North America to better prepare them for shocks to things like energy, food and water supplies.
We do this through guidelines on how to be more resilient.
I want us to look at how we can further strengthen these guidelines to fully take climate change into account. Such as by ensuring our energy and telecommunications grids can withstand more extreme weather events.

And we need to strengthen our ability to respond to natural disasters. NATO’s Disaster Response Centre has brought many nations together in the face of COVID-19. Delivering hundreds of tons of critical supplies around the world. Setting up almost 100 field hospitals. And transporting patients and medical personnel.  
Just as we have supported national governments during COVID-19, we must also be prepared to do more in relation to climate-related disasters.
The third reason why combatting climate change is simply because we all have a responsibility to cut emissions. So we can help preserve the future of our planet.
The supply of fuel has always been a critical, difficult and dangerous part of military operations. Fuel supply lines are notoriously vulnerable. Long lines of fuel trucks are open to attack.

NATO runs projects to reduce fuel use through our Green Defence framework. Championed by Denmark. We do this for practical military reasons. Not just to save the environment, but to save lives.
Dutch soldiers, for example, increasingly use solar panels instead of diesel generators during operations. The United States and Canada are also looking at integrating solar panels into their combat gear to power the increasing amount of electronic equipment soldiers carry. Other NATO countries are experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells and batteries to generate and store electricity. But we need to go further.
Countries around the world are setting in law the ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
I believe it is time to explore how NATO and our armed forces can contribute to this goal. Helping Allies to reduce their military carbon footprint. Without reducing their effectiveness. And sharing that expertise with our partners around the world.
A first step could be for NATO to help members of our Alliance to calculate the specific carbon output of their militaries. And then to report those figures.
The next step could be to consider voluntary targets for Allies to progressively cut those emissions. 
NATO is setting an example.
This headquarters, here in Brussels, is a green building. Using geothermal power for heat. And rainwater collection for building maintenance.
It is time to raise our ambition. And drive down carbon emissions across our armed forces.
The 30 members of the NATO Alliance make up around half of the world’s economy. We have close to one billion people. And we are leaders in technological change. So NATO can be a catalyst for positive change.
As the only institution that brings the nations of Europe and North America together around the same table every single day, it is the ideal vehicle for sharing information, ideas and expertise. For developing best practice and training. And for supporting national policy.
NATO’s core task is to keep us all safe.
Climate change is making the world more unsafe. So to fulfil our main responsibility, NATO must help to curb climate change.
For my generation and especially for yours.

NATO 2030 is about the future. You represent our future leaders. And I very much look forward to hearing your views.
Today I can announce that on the 9th November we will hold the first ever NATO Youth Summit. And I very much look forward to you joining me there.

Thank you so much, and then I’m ready for your questions.

MODERATOR: Secretary General, thank you for your speech that sets out so clearly just why climate change is NATO’s business too and not just for the governments. I would also like to thank you for your willingness to engage with students. And my task here today really is just to facilitate this conversation. There has been a lot of interest in this event, over a thousand registrations. And we have . . . we will be joined virtually, of course, by 10 students who will be asking questions directly to you. But we will also be gathering further questions from our audience. Some we have already received through email. Others can be put to us via the Q&A box on the Zoom function. And at the same time, there will be some polling. And please take the opportunity to answer the questions and we shall read the results before the end of this conversation. But I don’t want to take up more space, because this really is an opportunity for the students to engage directly with you. So let me introduce our first student from the University of Copenhagen. Please, the screen is yours.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So when it comes to the handling climates and these challenges, I find that some national military organisations have shifted their focus from more traditional defence focus, towards a focus on resilience, precaution and crisis response. So my question is whether this strategic shift is present within NATO as well. And if you’re developing new capacities to be able to respond to a climate induced crises. So you already mentioned this briefly, but maybe you can expand a little bit. Thank you.

MODERATOR: New strategic focus of NATO.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Yes, absolutely, of course, we have to be focussed on resilience because to keep us all safe is not only about having the traditional military capabilities, but it is also to address many other types of threats and challenges. And climate change is adding on to that. Of course, this is about cyber, it’s about terrorist threats, it’s about what we call hybrid threats and many other threats, but climate change is adding to that. So that’s the reason why NATO, actually also based on our founding treaty the Washington Treaty, in Paragraph 3, it’s stated clearly that all Allies are responsible for being resilient, and part of that is having resilient infrastructure, health services and so on.

And NATO has seven guidelines or baseline requirements where we outline requirements for resilience of each and every country in these different areas. That has always been important. But with more extreme weather, with more vulnerabilities in power grids, for infrastructure, ports, telecommunication grids and so on, resilience has just become even more important. And that’s the reason why, also, NATO Allies, for the first time in our history, at our summit in 2016 in Warsaw, made what we call a resilience commitment, increasing the focus on the need to create resilient societies as response to many threats, including climate change.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I shall continue by inviting Phoebe Chubb from Exeter University to ask her question. And yeah, please, Phoebe.

QUESTION: Does NATO view the reduction of the Arctic ice as a strategic issue or opportunity?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, the melting of Arctic ice is an issue, it is a strategic issue, and it reflects something which is very dangerous: that actually climate change is taking place now.

I am from Norway. I visited the Arctic many times and part of Norway is actually in the Arctic and we see the melting of ice. We see it in Greenland, the Danish part of the kingdom of Denmark and we see it in Svalbard and we see it in many other places. So this is a very stark and very concrete warning about that climate change is not a theoretical possibility in the future. It is something that is happening right now.

And then, of course, that can lead to, especially when you have ice on land also on the Greenland, and Iceland, Greenland, glaciers on land in Norway and other places. When that melts, it will contribute to rising sea levels with enormous consequences, not only for infrastructure, but also for millions of people all over the world living close to the sea. And they may be forced to move. So this has, of course, strategic implications globally.

Second, it has also strategic implications in the High North in the Arctic, because new sea lines may be opened, military presence will be more easy, new access to natural resources, may be more accessible. And all of this has strategic implications.

At the same time, the High North has always been a place where we have aimed for low tensions. And even during the coldest period of the Cold War, we have seen a kind of minimum of cooperation between NATO Allies - many of them being Arctic countries, or at least several of them being Arctic countries - and Russia, and before that, the Soviet Union.

So working in the Arctic Council, working in what we call the Barents Council, the Barents Cooperation. These are platforms for also dialogue, working with Russia, to try to keep tensions low and address common issues like climate change, environment, search and rescue and so on.

So, yes, there are significant strategic consequences of the warming in the Arctic. But at the same time, we need also to see the opportunities to maintain cooperation and hopefully also strengthen cooperation in the Arctic.

MODERTOR: So, from cooperation in the High North, we move to Spain University of Deusto, Jose Manuel, the screen is yours.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So, NATO has been successful in providing with aid to member countries’ authorities when managing this migration crisis. And also NATO has been successful in addressing the roots of these conflicts. However, when talking about climate-induced migration, the roots might be not managed well enough or not predictable enough. For example, when the case is the rise of the sea levels and the consequences, of course, they are not predictable enough. In this vein, and foreseeing potential risks such as ethnic or political conflicts in the host communities, my question is: what are the main challenges for NATO in this respect and what are the future expectations on the developing of a new Strategic Concept? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: There are many different reasons for migration and many different reasons for why people try to leave the country where they are born and where they grew up. Wars, conflict, poverty, political oppression. There are many different reasons. But climate change is now one additional reason because it creates living conditions for people, which become even more difficult with more droughts, flooding, extreme weather and so on. So the problem is that in the regions of the world where we already faced huge challenges related to poverty migration, we have climate change on top. And that exacerbates the situation and adds to the pressure on migration.

Of course, NATO can only deal with part of that. But NATO is working hard to address those challenges, partly to address some of the root causes for the conflict instability we see in the south. And we strongly believe that prevention is better than intervention. We need to help countries stabilise their own countries. And that’s exactly what we try to do in countries like Iraq, where we train and advise and help local forces to help to stabilise Iraq. It’s actually also what we do in Afghanistan. And we are looking into how we can work also with other partners, Tunisia, Jordan and other countries in what we, in the NATO jargon, often call the south. So NATO is part of this, and to help build stability in our neighbourhood, it’s important for our security. When our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.

We have a Strategic Concept today in NATO, which was agreed in 2010, and in that Strategic Concept it is stated that global warming, climate change, is a strategic challenge, affects our security. So that’s nothing new. We actually had that position for many years. What we are trying to do now is to develop and strengthen the approach. And that is part of what we call NATO 2030, addressing future challenges, including climate change I expect that some Allies will address the potential need for a new Strategic Concept, a part of the NATO 2030 process in NATO. It’s too early to conclude, but some Allies have already announced that they see the need for a new Strategic Concept. So I expect that to be part of that discussion.

MODERATOR: Moving across the Atlantic to Georgetown University. I have a question from Jennifer Grosman Fernández.

QUESTION: The shifting balance of power will impact the climate security sphere as Russia and China securitise the newly-accessible Arctic, leverage climate-induced shocks for geopolitical gain, and dominate clean energy technology. While climate security is clearly rising in relevance, Alliance member countries vary in the recognition of climate risks. How will NATO build the political consensus necessary to adequately respond to climate threats emerging from this shifting balance of power?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First, I think your question highlights one important message when it comes to climate change and security. And that is that climate change is a kind of crisis multiplier. Very often climate change in itself doesn’t create the crisis, but it enhances the seriousness and the challenges we are already faced with. So, it’s a crisis multiplier, but also a kind of a challenge multiplier. It adds to trends we have already seen in the security domain. And therefore it’s important to build consensus. NATO is a consensus-based organisation. So when we are going to face, deal with climate change, of course, consensus is the tool.

Therefore, I welcome that Allies are now putting this on the agenda as part of the NATO 2030 debate. And just this month, UK – United Kingdom – and Italy, they invited all Allies to a discussion here at the NATO Headquarters to address climate change and the security consequences. And by having discussions like that with all 30 Allies from Europe and North America, sitting together in the same room discussing these issues, we are step-by-step building consensus among an alliance representing one billion people, close to one billion people, half the world’s economic might, building consensus on climate change.

Then, of course, part of this broad picture is also the global shift in the global balance of power, with the rise of China. And what we do now in NATO is that we, for the first time in our history, we actually decided at our meeting, Leaders Meeting in London in December last year, to say that now NATO has to address the implications of the rise of China to our security. We don’t regard China as an adversary or as an enemy, but there are security consequences, some opportunities, but also some challenges, to the rise of China.

NATO will remain a regional Alliance in North America and Europe. NATO is not going to move into the South China Sea. But we have to take into account the fact that China’s coming closer to us in cyberspace, in the Arctic, in Africa, investing in infrastructure in Europe, in NATO-Allied countries, and also the fact that China is very much a presence in cyber, but also by developing missiles, weapons systems, that can reach all NATO Allies.

So China is one part of this big picture, changing global security environment, which we are addressing also through the NATO 2030 process.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And I’m sure questions about China will return.


MODERATOR: I’m told we can try the Baltic Defence College.

QUESTION: Climate change and environmental issues are increasingly important with respect to regional sensitivity, as well as to all geopolitical order. How should NATO policy simultaneously develop to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as address existing security challenges in NATO’s eastern flank?

MODERATOR: Prioritisation.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The easiest answer to that is that we are not going to choose between either address risks and challenges related to global warming, climate change, or threats and challenges we see, for instance, related to a more assertive Russia, the challenges our Allies in the Baltic region face.

NATO has to be an alliance which is able to have a 360 degree approach, as we say, being able to defend all Allies against any threat from any direction. And that’s the only way we can continue to be the most successful alliance in history. That’s one of the reasons we have actually called on Allies to invest more in defence, because we live in a more uncertain, unpredictable world. And therefore, we need more resources for our security.

NATO has already responded to the aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine. The military build-up, the deployment of new nuclear-capable missiles in Russia, violating the INF Treaty, the treaty that banned all intermediate-range missiles. We have done that partly by increasing the readiness of our forces, tripled the size of the NATO Response Force. We have air policing. We have increased our maritime presence in the Baltic region. But perhaps the most important bit, for the first time in NATO’s history, we have combat-ready troops in the Baltic countries and Poland. We have also increased our presence in the Black Sea region. And the fact that we have multinational NATO troops in the Baltic countries sends a very clear message, because NATO is already there. If any Baltic country is touched, then NATO is already there, responding. And that sends a strong message of Alliance unity and it underpins the security guarantees that NATO provides to all Allies, also the Baltic countries.

MODERATOR: You mentioned Poland and, indeed, it is to the University of Warsaw that we will turn.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. The United States and China have engaged in what is described by many as the Great Power Competition, or the New Cold War. For years the United States have been considered the backbone of NATO’s deterrence policy, but now its strategic focus has started to shift from Europe and Russia to China and the Indo-Pacific. And there are many concerns that, at some point, the United States will decide to actually withdraw fully from Europe. And how NATO is adapting to the China challenge and what specific initiatives are being implemented in order to enhance the transatlantic cooperation?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Historically, NATO has been focussed on the Soviet Union, back in during the Cold War and then after that, Russia, especially after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. But now we are, for the first time in our history, also addressing the implications of the rise of China. And again, as I said, we don’t regard China as an adversary or an enemy, but there are some security consequences of the rise of China – partly because they now have the second largest defence budget in the world, investing heavily in new capabilities, missiles, nuclear weapons. But, for instance, just over the last five years, they have deployed more ships than the total UK Navy. So it just demonstrates the magnitude of the military strength of China. And then we see China, Chinese companies, for instance, investing heavily in infrastructure in our own countries. And this raises some concerns.

We have seen the debate about telecommunications, 5G and Huawei, which NATO Allies have to address in one way or another.

Then, my message to the United States is that a strong NATO is good for Europe, but it is also good for the United States. Partly, peace and stability in Europe is good for the United States: two World Wars and the Cold War have taught us all that. But second, when I go to the United States, I hear concerns about the size of China, the technological advances of China, the size of the Chinese economy, soon the largest economy in the world, defence budgets, their new military capabilities. The size of China is of concern in the United States.

And then I remind the United States on the following – I know I’m not the only one that do that, but many people do that – is that it is good for the United States to have friends. I spoke to the US Congress last spring and my main message was that it’s good to have friends. And it’s a great advantage for the United States to have 29 friends and Allies. No other major power has that.

So if the United States is concerned about the size of China, then it’s even more important to keep friends and Allies in NATO close, because together we are 50 per cent of the world’s GDP, 50 per cent of the world’s military might. And we are leading together in many, many areas when it comes to technological development. So, if anything, the rise of China makes NATO even more important for all of us, but especially for the United States.

MODERATOR: Now, the next question will be in French. There’s interpretation there. I will turn to Les Jeunes de l’Institut Des Hautes Etudes De Défense Nationale.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Now, during this conference, you’ve talked about the impact of climate change on the geopolitical and geostrategic context. We’ve been talking about a more green strategy for defence. And today, the European Union, at community level, is trying to encourage initiatives of this kind to face the challenges of tomorrow. On this question of research and development in the defence sector, Secretary General, what do you think the Alliance can do and how do you see that linking up with what the European Union is doing on the same subject?

MODERATOR: So, research and defence.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So first of all, I think it’s extremely important that NATO and the European Union work closer together. I’ve always believed in that, but also faced with the challenges we see related to climate change.

Therefore, actually, I’m very glad to see that, over the last years, we have been able to lift cooperation between the European Union and NATO up to unprecedented levels. This was something I worked very hard on, together with the previous leadership in the European Union, President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Donald Tusk, and also High Representative Federica Mogherini, but also the current leadership - President Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Josep Borrell, the Vice President. They, all of them, are very engaged and supportive of working together, NATO and the European Union. So for me, it is extremely important that we continue to strengthen this cooperation. And I also welcome EU efforts on defence. I think it is important for all NATO Allies, for the European Union, for all of us, that Europe is investing more, doing more in the defence domain. Not to replace or to duplicate NATO, but to complement NATO, because, of course, EU cannot replace NATO. But EU and NATO has to work together and also in addressing how we can address climate change and the technological need to develop new and more advanced technologies.

MODERATOR: Thank you. So now we turn to the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

QUESTION: Thank you. Since ecological challenges are often, if not always, transnational in character and since NATO is international, the Alliance has a problem if its nations disagree on the existence and extent of threats as they do. For instance, in the fields of climate policy, the US and parts of Eastern Europe do not prioritise climate issues, as evident in their stance on the Paris Agreement. And despite the adoption of the Green Defence Framework in 2014, one easily gets the impression that NATO still lacks concrete institutional structures or recommendations for action. So given its internal divide, what can NATO effectively implement at all? What can you personally do to get the member states to act now and not tomorrow or the day after? And finally, as it is virtually impossible to make up for the carbon emissions caused by warfare and the defence industry, how can NATO avoid the impression of merely greenwashing the organisation?

MODERATOR: Thank you. Provocative question.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, but that’s reason why we have questions. So, first of all, it is absolutely correct that there are differences and disagreements between NATO Allies. And that’s, in a way, perhaps my main task, my main reason to be Secretary General, is that I have the obligation to try to keep 30 Allies together and to find platforms where they can agree. The good . . . and that’s a challenge. It’s not always easy. There’s no way to deny that.

But having said that, first of all, we have seen differences before, as part of NATO’s history, dating back to the Suez Crisis in the 1950s, or when France decided to leave the military cooperation in NATO in the 1960s or the Iraq war in 2003. There has been and there still are differences, disagreements between NATO Allies, because we are 30 countries, with different political history, geography, North America and Europe.

And that’s one of the reasons why we have launched NATO 2030, because we know that the only way to build consensus is by addressing the issues: discuss them, put forward different proposals and see how we can develop agreement consensus, because to try to deny the challenges, that’s no way forward. So the importance of NATO 2030 is that we are honest and we put on the table also the difficult and sensitive issues.

And I agree that climate change that it, to some extent, divides Allies and therefore I welcome the debate. Climate change is already part of our Strategic Concept. But to develop a policy, to strengthen that to find out exactly what it means, that is what is on the table now as part of this forward-looking process, NATO 2030.

We are already doing things like the Framework for Green Defence. And as I said in my speech, the beauty of that is that you can be concerned about reducing the use of fossil fuels, not necessarily because you’re concerned about climate change. But even if you’re not concerned about climate change, you should be focussed on how can we reduce the use of fossil fuels, because that makes our forces more vulnerable. For, also, for purely military reasons, we should look into how solar panels, biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells and so on can power more of our operations, because that will make them less vulnerable. The supply of fossil fuels has always been a great challenge and dangerous operations for military operations.

So I don’t think we need so many new institutions. What we need is to use the existing institutions, the decision-making bodies of NATO, to make decisions on how to advance further the work which is already ongoing on how to reduce our emissions, either because we’re concerned about climate change, which I am, or because we are concerned about the dependence on fossil fuels, which are always difficult and hard to supply. I am concerned about both the vulnerabilities related to the supply of fossil fuels and climate change, so I have twice the reasons to be focussed on how to reduce emissions from military operations.

MODERATOR: Let me turn now Isabel Hernandez Pepe from Luiss in Rome.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary General. My question for you is: how can NATO work with big tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to address the problem of disinformation of the climate change debate, which is arguably compounded by their own use of artificial intelligence? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Disinformation is a great, it’s a big challenge and something we have to take very seriously. And of course, part of that is also to work with the big companies. My main message is that NATO will never meet or counter propaganda with propaganda. I believe in the truth. And I also believe strongly that the truth will prevail. What we do is that we provide facts and we share them with Allies. We push back when we see disinformation against NATO or NATO Allies in the security domain. We have seen that related to COVID-19, we have seen it related to how we respond to terrorist threats and in many other areas.

Let me also add two more things. And that is that, I think that we can do a lot, NATO, but at the end of the day, this is about protecting a core value for NATO and that is a free and independent press. If we have free and independent journalist, media who are able to check their sources, ask the difficult questions, check their stories, then that’s the best way to respond to disinformation.

And I also think we all of us, all of us individually, you and I, we have a responsibility to check the sources and to not share on social media disinformation. So I would like to work with the big companies. I think that NATO as an institution has, of course, a great role to play. But I also believe strongly in the importance of a free and independent media, which is coordinated to protect, and the responsibility of each and every one of us to not share disinformation and check the sources when we read things on social media.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And now our final question from Carleton University, Canada.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask a question about whether you see a role for NATO in supporting global health, particularly universal vaccine access, for both current and future pandemics. The COVAX facility aims to develop and distribute two billion vaccines to 92 middle and lower income countries by the end of 2021. But the challenge of delivering vaccines in insecure and under-resourced contexts remains. Can NATO support the administration of COVID-19 vaccines for the hardest to reach, especially those in fragile and conflict-affected states? And how can this support be accomplished without militarising vaccine delivery? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great question.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, we should always be very careful about militarising vaccine delivery and be very aware of our responsibilities and our different roles. Having said that, of course, NATO is ready to help if there is a request from the civil society and from different nations, member nations or partner nations. And if we do that in the right way, I think we can play a key role, at least an important supportive role, of the civilian efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, to address other health issues. Which we have already done – NATO has played a key role in, for instance, Afghanistan, a vulnerable country, where NATO has a significant presence. And our military operation, the Resolute Support Mission, has helped to distribute protective equipment, masks, vaccines, set up field hospitals and helped a lot when it comes to basic health infrastructure.

We have also helped in Iraq, doing very much the same.  In Kosovo and in other places where we have NATO missions and operations. Those NATO missions and operations have been extremely supportive in these countries to help them provide basic healthcare equipment, also in response to COVID-19.

Of course, we have not distributed vaccines so far, because there’s been no vaccines to distribute. But, of course, we can do that also in the future as we have distributed face masks or other medical equipment if there is a request and if we find the right way of doing that.

NATO-Allied countries have also played a key role, in helping to distribute equipment, but also transport patients, medical personnel and so on. So the military effort in support of the civilian response to COVID-19 has been significant across the Alliance, partly also organised and supported by the NATO structures. So I think what we have seen is that military can support civilian healthcare services when there is a need and request for that.

Let me just briefly say that in my previous life, I also worked very much on vaccines. I was on the board of a consultancy called GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. So I really see the need for a global effort to help the most vulnerable countries. And again, NATO is ready. We have done a lot already in some countries, we can do more if there is a request and if we find the right way to work together with other international institutions.

The last thing I’ll say about this is that we have, for instance, responded to a UN request to set up a field hospital in West Africa, a huge undertaking, a big hospital. The UK and other Allies delivered the hospital, we delivered the strategic airlift. And it just shows that NATO can play a role, also, in responding to a major health crisis.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And you’ve been very disciplined with time management. So we actually have a couple of minutes to ask one or two questions from our audience. They have posted the questions on the Zoom chat. So I’d like to take first question which is about the Eastern Mediterranean and the rising tensions there and whether there are any mechanisms to mitigate or handle divergence within the Alliance.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Of course, in NATO we are concerned when we see tensions increased between . . . or we see tensions between two NATO Allies, Greece and Turkey, in the Eastern Mediterranean. And we have also seen a significant presence of ships, planes, military capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean. And therefore, here at NATO, we have taken an initiative. We have helped to bring together two highly-valued Allies, Greece and Turkey, to sit together and see how we can develop what we call military deconfliction mechanisms. This is about, you know, how to make sure that ships, planes keep the necessary distance, behave in a responsible way. So we prevent, avoid incidents and accidents, and if they happen, prevent them from spiralling out of control. And there are always risks with that when we have so many ships at the same place in the same sea territory, as we have seen in the Eastern Med.

I have reached out both to the Greek Prime Minister, to President Erdoğan, to the leadership in Ankara and Athens. And we are working on that. These talks are what we call technical military talks, because they are addressing a technical military issue to try to deconflict in the Eastern Med. Hopefully, if we can find a solution, establish these mechanisms, then that can help to support the German-led efforts to facilitate talks on the underlying main problem: disagreement on border issues and other issues in the Eastern Med between Greece and Turkey. So there is ongoing work here at NATO. Deconfliction is important in itself. It reduces the risks, for incidents and accidents. And hopefully it can also then support the efforts of Germany to address the underlying main problem.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And I think we have to start moving towards ending this conversation, but I do have a question for you. I’m very impressed with the competence and knowledge that you have on all things with respect to climate change. And, of course, you have a deep personal involvement in this topic. I’d like to ask you on, again, on a more personal note: are you optimistic about our ability to fight climate change?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Fundamentally, I am an optimist, because the world and humankind has been able to address so many other challenges. And I strongly believe in science. So . . . and it is possible. But then, I have to also say that I am not an optimist if you think, if you ask me whether I think it’s possible to prevent climate change. Climate change, as I already said, is happening right now, and it has all the negative effects on the life of many people around the world. But I am absolutely certain that it is possible to prevent, you know, the development moving into, what should I say, a really, really kind of catastrophic situation. And it’s important and it is possible to kerb and to start to limit the emissions and to start to get them down, mainly because I believe in science and technology, which has been so helpful in solving many other environmental issues. When I started to become engaged in environmental issues, then the big issue was the ozone layer and we have been able as a world to almost remove all the emissions that destroy the ozone layer. In our part of Europe, it was acid rain. We have been able to almost remove all the emissions that caused acid rain. And there are many . . . lead in gasoline, pollution in cities was a big issue – it’s not fully solved, but to a very large extent has been solved as an environmental problem.

So when we have solved so many other environmental problems, then we should also be able to solve climate change.

And then, the last thing I would say is that when I meet young people, as the young people I met today, with the knowledge, the enthusiasm and also the criticism of power and people like me, then I’m very optimistic, because they are the future. They have the will, but also the competence to address climate change.

MODERATOR: So, Secretary General, I’m very glad, by the way, that you mentioned the battles that have been won, because I think it’s important for the younger generations, who might not recall the debates in the 1980s and 1990s, to know that things can be changed. So we have done some polling with our audience. So let’s see what results have come out. The first question was about: what is the biggest security challenge in 2030? And indeed, 68 per cent believe it’s the impacts of climate change, versus 46 per cent on cyber and new technology, which suggests to me that other threats are seen as far less important, the more traditional threats are seen as less challenging. And what should the military do about climate change? So, 77 per cent believe that they should both use less fossil fuel and plan to operate in changing circumstances. And that’s a large percentage. And then what should NATO’s role on climate change . . . what should it be? 60 per cent think realistic and 37 per cent ambitious. Where do you stand on this one?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I am amongst the 37 per cent.

MODERATOR: The 37 per cent.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Why not be? I think the only realistic thing is to be ambitious. So that’s the way we have to deal with climate change.

MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much, Secretary General. I’d also like to thank the universities that have cooperated to make this event possible. And let me just thank, especially, the students. I think they’ve been very brave to come on screen and pose their questions to you, including challenging questions. There will be other opportunities to engage and you mentioned the NATO Youth Forum in November. So I do hope NATO as a whole continues to reach out to the younger generations in order to make sure that NATO has a good and participative future. Thank you very much.