I was recently in Washington, D.C., meeting with my counterparts in the Defense Department to discuss the impact of climate change on our respective militaries. It was clear that the UK and U.S. militaries agree that climate change will act as a driver of instability throughout the world, especially in areas where it coincides with other stresses, such as poverty, demographic growth and resource shortages.
The recently released DOD Quadrennial Defence Review and the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) Green Paper identify climate change for the first time, as a significant factor affecting the future security environment and one that we need to know more about, in particular how it will impact on our business. For whilst current military operations will rightly always be our highest priority, we must also find time to address future threats, including climate change.
Militaries are in the business of risk management. Climate change could pose enormous risks to our environmental, political, and economic security just as regional or technological threats do. The US and UK militaries can collaborate in looking at ways to identify the issues and working with the most vulnerable countries to build their capacity for adapting to environments destabilised by climate change. However, we realise that we must also address the underlying causes of climate change. Key to achieving this is limiting the average global temperature rise to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, when compared to pre-industrial times, since beyond that, the risks will increase markedly.
In recognition of how energy intensive our operations are, the US and UK militaries are also taking steps to do their part in reducing emissions. We cannot afford to miss the inextricable link between climate security, economic security and energy security. For example, the UK Armed Forces currently spend nearly £1 billion (roughly $1.50 billion) on energy every year. In the past, this cost has been manageable, however, price fluctuations, the insecurity of supply, and environmental concerns have forced the MOD to rethink the sources of our energy and how we spend our money. If we can reduce our fossil fuel use and invest in diversifying our energy supply, we will not only increase our energy security but we will also improve our energy efficiency. This reduction in the military’s energy demand will have the added benefit of decreasing the threat to loss of life and limb that result from the frequent supply convoys required on operations.
Factoring climate change into our military planning will be no easy task. It will require us to begin planning now in order to be prepared for a future where climate related conflicts could challenge our ability to deliver our core mission of providing national security. Militaries are often accused of fighting the next conflict based on the previous conflict’s rules of engagement. It appears the rules are changing again, and we must be prepared.
Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti is an active duty officer in the UK military and is the UK’s Climate Security Envoy.