Climate change impacting Defence

Defence and Climate: Taking a closer look

Exploring how Defence Agencies and Defence Forces around the world are preparing for and addressing climate change issues.

1 March 2022

Defence and Security Water Management

Defence and Climate: Taking a closer look

The challenges of the 21st century are many and complex; but there is growing recognition that climate change is one of humankind’s most pressing issues. This is the first instalment in a short series of articles by BMT about Climate and Defence; exploring how Defence Agencies and Defence Forces around the world are preparing for and addressing climate change issues. Scroll down for other articles in the series.

Like all other industries and organisations, climate risk is starting to shape Defence Agency policy and Defence Force operations to address two fundamental questions:

  • One - how does climate variability, more extreme weather events and longer-term climate change such as increased heat and sea level rise affect military assets, operations and capability?
  • Two – what is the impact that military operations, equipment and facilities are having on the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions? What can be done to minimise them and contribute to efforts to contain climate change?

However, these two factors must also be considered in the context of a third and broader implication from climate change: an increasing operational role of Defence Forces in climate-related humanitarian aid and disaster response and recognition of climate change as a threat multiplier in national security in critical regions.  As put forward in the UK’s Integrated Review (2021)[1], there is a growing recognition that nations will need to address collectively the ‘issues of security, multilateral governance, tackling climate change and health risks, conflict resolution and poverty reduction’ as part of their commitment to global peace and stability.

Despite the crippling impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic, policy responses to climate change by Defence agencies across the world have ratcheted up in 2021, with prominent releases of climate action and response plans in the USA and UK [2] as well as renewed commitments from NATO as part of their Climate Change and Security Plan.

In June 2021, NATO leaders confirmed their shared political commitment to reduce defense emissions, labelling climate change, “a defining challenge of our times” and adopted an ambitious Climate Change and Security Action Plan to mainstream climate change considerations into NATO’s political and military agenda [3].

While each jurisdiction is approaching these climate challenges in their own unique way or as part of a broader sustainability and social values agenda, there are some commonalities in approach forming.

Key initiatives and themes in terms of climate adaptation by Defence Agencies and Defence Forces include:

  • Investment now to reduce costs later in terms of rectifying damage, replacement and maintenance of assets
  • Understanding current and future vulnerability and taking steps to minimise disruption to operations
  • Anticipating impacts and making use of climate and hazard forecasting data to better inform decision making and provide tactical advantage
  • Informing future investment – both at a site/facility level and as part of expansion plans

Key initiatives and themes related to decarbonisation for Defence Agencies and Defence Forces include:

  • Setting targets and progressively lowering its greenhouse gas emissions
  • Managing energy effectively including through maximising energy productivity across the Defence business and transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy
  • Exploring adoption of alternative fuels and propulsion systems and carbon capture technology
  • Implementing green and low carbon procurement and supply chains
  • Potentially compensating for unavoidable (mission critical) emissions, by pursuing or by pushing for decarbonisation beyond their own emissions.

    Practical implementation of these climate risk and resilience strategies will be challenging and incremental.   This has particularly been the case for Defence Forces in the context of dealing with short term resource and time pressures associated with the COVID pandemic and disaster response from extreme weather events; but must also always be considered in terms of addressing the overarching imperative of maintaining security and operational military capability in an increasingly uncertain world.

    But we are seeing greater policy alignment between these important concepts forming, as indicated by the recently released US Department of Defence Climate Adaptation Plan (2021) which succinctly notes:

    The effects and costs [from extreme weather events] are likely to increase with climate change….but not adapting to climate change will be even more consequential with failure measured in terms of lost military capability.’ [4]

    In this series of articles, BMT will look in more detail at how Defence Agencies and Defence Forces in our home geographies of Australia (and the Pacific), North America and the UK are approaching climate risk and resilience, as well as highlighting progress towards decarbonisation and adaptation goals and aspirations in the Defence sector.

     

    [1] Refer the Integrated Review 2021 access via https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy

    [2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ministry-of-defence-climate-change-and-sustainability-strategic-approach

    [3] https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_183258.htm

    [4] https://www.sustainability.gov/pdfs/dod-2021-cap.pdf

    Meet the experts

    Greg Fisk

    Global Lead - Climate Risk and Resilience

    Greg Fisk

    Global Lead - Climate Risk and Resilience

    Greg is a Senior Associate at BMT and leads the firm’s global campaign related to climate risk and resilience. Based in Brisbane, Australia, Greg has over 25 years of experience in natural hazard and climate change planning and adaptation studies with planning, transport, and conservation authorities.

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