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Why NATO Now Considers Climate Change as a Security Issue

What is NATO, how does it work, and how can members work together to manage the newfound and official threat of climate change as a security issue?
Green News
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Climate change has been popping up on everyone’s radar over the past few years, and now – NATO is joining the party.

NATO is now considering climate change to be a security issue for not just members of NATO, but for the world as a whole. 

What is NATO, how does it work, and how can members work together to manage the newfound and official threat of climate change as a security issue?

What is NATO?

NATO, or The North Atlantic Alliance, was formed after the Second World War with the goal to maintain peace across Europe and encourage collaboration amongst members of NATO to protect their freedom moving forward. Ultimately, NATO was inspired following the previous threats the Soviet Union posed on Europe. 

Officially forming their alliance in April of 1949, NATO was initially created with 12 countries from North America and Europe – and now currently consists of 31 member countries. Some of these members include France, Germany, Greece, Belgium, the United States, and the United Kingdom. 

👉 The members of NATO are committed to democracy, freedom, and developing peaceful resolutions in the event of conflict. 

However, one of the most important concepts of NATO is that if one country attacks one Ally – all of the allies are considered to be under attack. Therefore, NATO provides a solid form of communication for countries across the pond for international issues.

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How has NATO worked to fight climate change?

Even though NATO was a product of the Cold War as an effort to form an alliance for future threats, the relationship between NATO member countries has evolved to face other issues together – such as climate change.

It’s no secret that global warming is more prominent than ever before: with wildfires in Maui and Canada, record breaking temperatures, and even Biden receiving pressure to declare climate change as a national emergency.

All of these continuous, devastating events as a result of climate change have triggered NATO to move forward with greater environmental security and protection.

NATO has made numerous efforts to lend a helping hand in the fight against climate change. 

For instance, NATO has promoted their own Climate Change and Security Agenda as of March 2021 – which embodies multiple climate-related goals such as to increase awareness amongst allies in NATO on how climate change impacts security, advocating for climate adaptation, reducing emissions created by their military, and creating a broader network to tackle climate security.

👉 The Climate Change and Security Agenda was developed with the incentive for NATO to become a leading organization on how climate change impacts security. 

NATO has proceeded to hold annual Climate Change and Security Impact Assessments, which acts in a similar manner to “taking inventory” – where NATO analyzes how their assets, missions, and operations are impacted by climate change. NATO makes use of science and technology, a part of their vast network, to support their climate change research. 

In addition to the Climate Change and Security Agenda, NATO also works to fight climate change by implementing various measures – such as developing defense mechanisms in line with the climate crises, building resilience, valuing innovation, and curating disaster response programs in the event they are necessary.

NATO is aware of how climate change could have an impact on the mobility of their military, and therefore is addressing all the adjustments that must be made accordingly to ensure the Alliance remains beneficial to all members.

NATO has also done the following to demonstrate its efforts against climate change:

country pins in NATO on blue cloth

Why does NATO view climate change as a security issue?

NATO has realised the impact climate change has on their alliance for many years now, but it has never been more of a threat than it is today.

This is due to the continuous natural disasters, weather extremes, rising sea levels, floods, air pollution, and overall depletion of natural resources – all of which can simultaneously implicate military action and cause a rise in regional tension. 

👉 NATO recognises that climate change can not only have an impact on their ability to defend members of NATO in the event of an attack, but that climate change itself can provoke a rise in tension and elicit the need for further military action. Therefore, climate change is making it difficult for NATO to provide itself with the resources it needs while also creating an environment where those resources will be needed on a more frequent basis – creating a “catch 22” situation.

Here are just a few more reasons why NATO realises the impending threat of climate change on security:

  1. Newfound Vulnerability to Defense Infrastructure – Military bases and infrastructure, both essential to NATO, are prone to the effects of climate change – seeing as things such as rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions can have a profound impact on terrain. Therefore, NATO must adapt their infrastructure to become more climate resilient and ensure it will continue to be effective in the midst of climate change.
  2. Delivery of Resources – Even in a world with high-speed jets, NATO (like the rest of the world) still makes use of shipping routes via the ocean. However, as Arctic ice melts – new shipping routes will need to be established and could render currently available natural resources as unavailable in the near future. 
  3. Increased Conflict – Terrain created by rising sea levels and out-of-the-ordinary weather can create international conflict. For instance, climate change can have an impact on being able to cross international borders – leading to potential refugee crises and later conflict.
  4. Impact on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief – Seeing as members of NATO are called to help one another in a crisis, climate change may start to “tap out” members of NATO – as more natural disasters can take a financial toll on a country. This can later impact members of NATO from being able to financially support their military efforts. 
  5. Global Instability – Everyone knows that climate change is a global issue, and that means that the continued instability across the world could pose a threat to NATO as it will be even more difficult to keep track of all the discrepancies being caused by climate change.

NATO is predominantly concerned with how climate change will threaten security, but the other ways in which climate change affects our world will have an indirect impact on security as well – forcing NATO to become aware of all the ways climate change could profoundly affect security.
France, Denmark, Lithuania, and Poland pins

How could this impact member countries of NATO?

NATO is home to one of the most extensive alliance funding programs in the world – as NATO makes up 57% of global military spending. 

Therefore, any of the 31 members of NATO are likely to suffer the effects of climate change seeing how pivotal NATO is to many of their military defense and security policies. 

Here are just a few examples of how NATO member countries could be impacted by the impending threat of climate change on security: 

  • Environmental issues and natural disasters that could put one member country of NATO in danger, and subsequently – the other 30 members would be expected to assist or financially support the NATO member out of peril.
  • Increased health issues amongst residents of NATO countries.
  • Loss of biodiversity in NATO countries – which is essential to support climate change.
  • Enhanced threats for vulnerable regions of the world where NATO members would be obligated to help.
  • Transportation can be compromised as coastal roads could be closed off or sporadic temperatures could impact airplane wings. This could compromise the general effectiveness of NATO’s current security.
  • Greater energy consumption as a result of trying to maintain safety when using various technologies, such as aircrafts on behalf of NATO.
  • Impact to future military operations in both Europe and North America, and if one NATO member experiences complications – it could have an impact on all members.

👉 Given the fact that climate change is primarily impacting potential security measures amongst NATO, is imperative that member countries understand that even if their country isn’t impacted – their support system could suffer if another member country apart of NATO is suddenly unable to provide their military resources in the event of invasion.

Think of NATO similar to a pyramid formed by cheerleaders. Even if it may seem probable to presume that one cheerleader could disappear and the pyramid remain intact – the fact is that even one cheerleader in the middle could disrupt the entire support system. The same goes for NATO, as if one member is suddenly unable to support its allies – all the remaining members of NATO will feel the effects.

Ultimately, climate change will continue to have a profound impact on the military and national security – resulting in NATO seeking new ways to implement more sustainable methods and technologies to maintain the initial goals of NATO.

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How will NATO aim to address the new security issue?

NATO is working to develop new ways that can help drive down the emissions created by NATO itself, in addition to addressing the security concerns created by climate change. 

Small but effective efforts, such as NATO partnering with other countries to clean up old weapons and unexploded remnants, can help to prevent both war and future environmental predicaments. 

However, NATO is planning more than beach-like clean ups. Here is how NATO plans to address the new security issues caused by climate change: 

Implementing Energy Efficiency & New Technologies 

One of the biggest threats to NATO is how climate change will require more energy consumption in order to maintain their technologies. Therefore, NATO is determined to make use of more energy efficient and green technologies to help ensure armed forces can remain competent without polluting the planet. 

In addition to this, NATO is making it a priority to adjust current infrastructure issues and build greater climate resilience for their buildings in conjunction with these new green technologies.

New Policies & Standards

NATO has been developing its environmental protection policy for over 50 years, but now – NATO has a renewed incentive to revamp them once again.

Organizations working with NATO to develop environmental policies include:

  • The Environmental Protection Working Group (EPWG)
  • The Specialist Team on Energy Efficiency and Environmental Protection (STEEEP) 

The EPWG wil help NATO to implement standardised guidelines, whereas STEEEP can help to implement energy efficiency and technical regulations to ensure more environmentally friendly equipment is used moving forward. 


Extensive Training

NATO is working to ensure that all forces will receive adequate training to protect the environment. This includes enhancing awareness of energy efficiency measures to be implemented and encouraging military personnel to adjust their everyday lives to be more sustainable. 

Environmental education will also be provided by the NATO School Oberammergau and the Military Engineering Centre of Excellence. 

Research and Development

NATO will implore their Science and Technology Organization (STO) to continue conducting further research solutions on how to adjust to the technical challenges associated with the military as a result of climate change. 

NATO’s Center for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) will also assist by performing onsite environmental evaluations to get a better understanding of how mammals, the Atlantic Ocean, and marine animals are impacted by climate change.

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Greater International Collaboration 

NATO is determined to facilitate greater international cooperation to pool resources together and fight climate change. This will be done with the Science for Peace and Security, as they will support group activities to tackle the security issues created by climate change.

NATO also joined forces with the following to help boost international cooperation:

  • The European Union (EU)
  • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
  • The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC)
  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 

Ultimately, even NATO is being threatened by climate change and will impact national security for multiple countries – but NATO has got a good hold of what needs to be done to keep its members safe.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about how NATO now deems climate change as a security issue has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Keeping track of all the new green technologies being developed to aid in the fight against climate change can be exhausting, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can point out the best green technologies to be used for your company. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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