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Military Operations Will be Strained by Climate Change

Militaries around the world could be overstretched as they respond to more intense and frequent climate-driven crises and threats to their own installations. That means faster action is needed to address climate risks in security practices, according to a report by the International Military Council on Climate and Security, a group of officers and experts.

It envisions a world rippling with new threats as conflicts erupt over waning water supplies and disappearing farmland. Operating bases are at risk of being submerged by rising oceans, and military personnel could be retasked to help civilian populations during intensifying disasters.

“As military and security professionals, it is our duty to warn the public about this threat,” Steve Brock, a senior adviser at the Council on Strategic Risks and lead author on the report, said in a statement. “We must work together to achieve significant emissions reductions to avoid the worst effects of climate change and also invest heavily in the climate resilience of nations that need it in order to avoid instability, conflict and major humanitarian disasters,” he added.

The report recommends directing assistance toward water and food security, disaster preparedness, and encouraging investments in renewable energy and adaptation. It calls on militaries to integrate climate risk assessments into their security plans, and it urges international actors to develop laws and mechanisms around new climate science, such as geoengineering.

It also includes tools to evaluate current and future climate risks among countries and seek ways to confront them. And it presents findings from a climate security risk perception survey in which experts anticipate “severe-to-catastrophic risks” as soon as 2031, led by natural disasters, increased inequality, biodiversity loss, infectious diseases and forced displacement.

While the effects of climate change threaten military infrastructure, the impact they have on social systems could impose the most pressing security challenges.

Increasing water and food shortages, for example, can drive internal friction or organized crime. A report last month by the Council on Strategic Risks found that climate change could increase the potential for conflict between India and China, in part by intensifying competition over vital water resources (Climatewire, May 17).

The convergence of climate change with other crises—such as pandemics, economic shocks, and extreme drought or flooding—could create “compound” risks that many countries are unprepared to manage, according to yesterday’s report.

“Climate security risks will continue to intensify across all regions, with new disasters hitting before societies can recover from or adapt to the impact of previous ones,” it states. “Fragile regions of the world will continue to face the most severe and catastrophic security consequences of climate change, yet no region is immune.”

Tackling the threats posed by climate change is expected to be a key part of the Group of Seven meeting later this week and NATO on June 14. President Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal sets aside $617 million for the military to confront the impacts of climate change, with increases in construction spending by the Department of Defense directed toward protecting installations from extreme weather threats (Greenwire, June 1).

It would also put money toward decarbonizing the department’s intense demand for energy. That won’t be an easy lift. According to a 2019 study by Brown University’s Costs of War project, the Defense Department is the U.S. government’s largest fossil fuel consumer. Another study by Lancaster University found that the U.S. military emits more greenhouse gases than most countries.

Source: Scientific American

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