Environment – NATO's stake

  • Last updated: 09 Dec. 2014 15:08

NATO recognises that it faces many environmental challenges. In particular, the Alliance is working to reduce the environmental effects of military activities and to respond to security challenges emanating from the environment.

The Alliance first recognised the natural environmental challenges facing the international community in 1969, when it established the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS). Until its merger with the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme in 2006, the CCMS provided a unique forum for NATO and its partner countries to share knowledge and experience on social, health and environmental matters, both in the civilian and military sectors.

Over the years, Allied countries have established several NATO groups to address environmental challenges from various angles. 

NATO's current activities related to the natural environment include: 

  • protecting the environment from damaging effects of military operations;
  • promoting environmentally friendly management practices in training areas and during operations;
  • adapting military assets to a hostile physical environment;
  • preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters;
  • addressing the impact of climate change;
  • educating NATO’s officers on all aspects of environmental challenges;
  • supporting partner countries in building local capabilities;
  • enhancing energy efficiency and fossil fuel independence; and
  • building environmentally friendly infrastructures.

All these activities fall under two broad categories:

  • Environmental protection:  Protecting the physical and natural environment from the harmful and detrimental impact of military activities.
  • Environmental security:  Addressing security challenges emanating from the physical and natural environment.
  • Environmental protection

    Military activities often have an adverse effect on the environments in which they occur. Damage to the environment from these activities can threaten livelihoods and habitats, and thus breed instability. Part of NATO's responsibility is to protect the physical and natural environments where operations and training take place.

    Since the 1960s environmental experts have argued that the military should adopt measures to protect the physical and natural environment¹ from harmful and detrimental effects of its activities. Environmental degradation can cause social and economic instability and new tensions, whereas the preservation of the environment during a military operation can enhance stabilisation and foster lasting security. Hence, minimising environmental damage during training and military operations is of great importance for the overall success of the mission.

    NATO member countries are aware of the environmental challenges during military operations and they have adopted rules and regulations to protect the environment. NATO's measures range from safeguarding hazardous materials (including fuels and oils), treating waste water, reducing fossil fuel consumption and managing waste to putting environmental management systems in place during NATO-led activities. In line with these objectives, NATO has been facilitating the integration of environmental protection measures into all NATO-led military activities.

    Policy and standards (including evolution and mechanisms paragraph)

    NATO started to develop its environmental protection policy in the late 1970s when NATO expert groups and processes were established to address environmental challenges, resulting in a number of guidelines and standards. At this time, NATO's policy states that NATO-led forces "must strive to respect environmental principles and policies under all conditions".

    Currently, two dedicated NATO groups are addressing environmental protection while promoting cooperation and standardization among NATO and partner countries, as well as among different NATO bodies and international organizations that regularly attend as observers:

      • the Environmental Protection Working Group (EPWG) (under the Military Committee Joint Standardization Board that reports to the Military Committee)
      • The Specialist Team on Energy Efficiency and Environmental Protection (STEEEP) (under the Maritime Capability Group "Ship Design and Maritime Mobility" that reports through the NATO Naval Armaments Group to the Conference of National Armament Directors).

    The EPWG aims to reduce possible harmful impacts of military activities on the environment by developing NATO policies, standardization documents, guidelines and best practices in the planning and implementation of operations and exercises.

    The ST/EEEP aims to integrate environmental protection and energy efficiency regulations into technical requirements and specifications for armaments, equipment and materials on ships, and for the ship to shore interface in the Allied and partner nations' naval forces.

    Two decades of activities by expert groups have paved the way for the overarching policy document MC 469 on "NATO Military Principles and Policies for Environmental Protection," of which the first version was agreed by the NATO Military Committee in 2003, and an updated version was agreed upon in October 2011. This document describes the responsibilities of military commanders for environmental protection during the preparation and execution of military activities. Further, it recognizes the need for "a harmonization of environmental principles and policies for all NATO-led military activities." It also instructs NATO commanders to apply "best practicable and feasible environmental protection measures," thus aiming at reducing the environmental impact caused by military activity.   The MC 469 has been complemented with several other NATO EP Standardization Documents (STANAG) and Allied Joint Environmental Protection Publications (AJEPP), all focused on protection the environment during NATO-led military activities.  These include the following:

      • STANAG 7141 Joint NATO Doctrine for Environmental Protection During NATO-led Military Activities (AJEPP-4)
      • STANAG 2510 Joint NATO Waste Management Requirements During NATO-led Military Activities (AJEPP-5)
      • STANAG 2582 Environmental Protection Best Practices and Standards for Military Camps in NAT-led Military Activities (AJEPP-2)
      • STANAG 2583 Environmental Management System in NATO Operations (AJEPP-3)
      • STANAG 6500 NATO Camp Environmental File During NATO-led Operations
      • STANAG 2594 Best Environmental Protection Practices for Sustainability of Military Training Areas (AJEPP-7)


    In order to ensure compliance with such standards, forces must receive appropriate environmental protection training. While such training is primarily a national responsibility, it is NATO's ambition to provide common environmental protection and energy efficiency education to Allies' forces. It is necessary to embed environmental protection awareness into the daily routine of military personnel and increase their personal responsibility in this field. To advance this objective, NATO has designated staff officers for the implementation of environmental protection at strategic, operational and tactical levels.  As well, NATO School Oberammergau and the Military Engineering Center of Excellence (MILENG COE) provide environmental protection courses and instruction as part of their curriculum.

    Research and Development

    NATO's Science and Technology Organisation (STO) promotes and conducts scientific research on military-specific technical challenges, some of which are related to environmental issues. To this end, STO technical/scientific sub-committees, composed of experts from NATO and nations, look for "greener solutions" by conducting studies and research resulting in scientific reports. STO's activities include noise reduction and "greener ammunition." The STO's Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) located in La Spezia, Italy, conducts research to quantify the impact of the environment on operations, and vice versa. One extensive CMRE study resulted in a better understanding on how marine mammals can be affected by sonar systems. Based on the results, NATO developed the "Code of Conduct for the Use of Active Sonar to Ensure the Protection of Marine Mammals within the Framework of Alliance Maritime Activities" (MC-0547). STO's Collaborative Network is supported by the Collaboration Support Office, located in Paris, France. More information can be found at www.sto.nato.int, www.cso.nato.int  and www.cmre.nato.int.

    Within the context of NATO's Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, environmental protection experts across NATO and partner nations have been active in the development of policy and technical solutions to the reduction of the environmental and energy footprint on NATO-led activities.  One such advanced research workshop consisted of the development of a NATO Camp Closure Handbook and a Sustainable Camp Model.  The model enables operational planners to better understand the impact of operations on water, waste and energy consumption and provides technical solutions aimed at a reduction in the environmental and energy footprint of operations.

    Collaborative Approach

    NATO's Environmental community has been active in their cooperative efforts with other international organizations, to include the UN and EU.  This collaborative approach also includes discussions with industry, academia and governmental agencies.

    1.       NATO defines environment as " the surroundings in which an organization operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans, and their interrelations" (NTMS- NATO agreed 31 Oct 2013).

  • Environmental security

    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 for Peace and Security (SPS) 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 consulting with relevant international organizations and experts on NATO’s stake in climate change.

    Building international cooperation

    Since 1969, NATO’s SPS Programme has supported cooperative activities that tackle environmental security issues, including those that are related to defence, in NATO countries. Since the SPS Programme opened up to partner countries in the 1990s, partners listed environmental security as a top priority, requesting NATO’s support for cooperative activities to address those issues that threaten the security of their country and beyond.

    In order to better coordinate its activities, NATO joined in 2004 five other international agencies under the Environment and Security (ENVSEC) Initiative¹ to address environmental issues that threaten security in four vulnerable regions. The regions are South east Europe, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia. As a first step, ENVSEC facilitated regional meetings with relevant stakeholders (experts, non-governmental organizations authorities, governmental authorities and international donors) to consult and agree on regional maps highlighting priority issues that are a threat to security. As a second step ENVSEC raised fund to address the identified issues, The SPS programme mainly support capability building through projects that helped partner countries with equipment, consumables, travel, training and stipends. (For more information visit www.envsec.int)

    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 former Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen 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. With the aim to increase the understanding, NATO organised consultations and scenario building exercises involving military and civilian experts, partly supported by the SPS Programme. Consequently, under NATO’s current Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the dialogue with other international organizations has been enhanced with a focus on how NATO and its armed forces could better adapt to the challenge of an increasing number of natural disasters. 

    Energy security – Critical Energy Infrastructure Protection

    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 aware of. 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. (For more please visit the topical page “Energy Security”.)

    Projects that focus on the link between energy infrastructure and environmental security have been supported by the SPS Programme since early 2000. An example is the multi-year project “Chernobyl Dust Model” that is helping Ukraine to develop a realistic 3D model of the radioactive dust that is leaking from the damaged sacrophage at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power site. This will not only increase the safety of the workers of the New Safety Confinement, but also helps international experts understand the challenges of measurements and monitoring of contaminated areas.

    Energy efficiency in the military (Smart Energy)

    Recognizing the increasing need of fuel in operations, causing security issues for fuel convoys and armed forces, NATO started in 2011 a Smart Energy initiative bringing together NATO stakeholders and national experts from the public and private sector. Heads of State and Government declared in Wales in 2014 that NATO will “[...] continue to work towards significantly improving the energy efficiency of our military forces, and in this regard we note the Green Defence Framework.” For more information on “Smart Energy” please visit the NATO LibGuide on Smart Energy.

    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.