The military is only just becoming aware of the scale of the social and environmental impacts that climate change will have in the coming decades. Increasing droughts, floods and severe weather events threaten large numbers of the world population.
They lead to mass migration flows, cause resource scarcity and disrupt societies. Climate change is a risk multiplier of an existential nature, affecting every society around the world, generating new conflicts and potentially affecting our global security. This makes climate change an issue for national and international security – and thus the military.
This report illustrates the fact that oftentimes climate change not only acts as a threat multiplier in theatres of military operations, but also has direct implications for military capabilities, as it leads to calls for assistance to civil society in home territories. In some cases, it can even directly affect military capabilities and strength, as extreme weather events place a substantial additional burden on military forces’ overall capacity to act and dilute the value of military assets, as exemplified by the regular flooding of the Norfolk navy bases and the recent wildfires in south-east Australia.
The extent to which the military capabilities of countries are affected by climate change is related to whether, and how, countries respond to and integrate climate change impacts into their defence strategies and policies, and more specifically into risk assessment, early warning, surveillance and operational preparations. It is also related to countries’ general efforts in climate adaptation, disaster preparedness and risk reduction, even though some impacts might be difficult or impossible to prepare for entirely.
The military moreover contributes to climate change with its own emissions and although some countries have greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets for the defence sector, others do not. It seems that countries not yet undertaking adjustments in relation to climate change, or which are reluctant to do so, do not sufficiently realise its undermining impact on their military capabilities.
In general appetite among military organisations to address climate change seems to be growing. They seem ready for take-off to make their contribution.