On June 5th, 2014, the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) released a summary of the key findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and its implications for defense. The GMACCC report found that climate change poses an increasing threat to world security.
BGen Stephen Cheney, USMC (ret), ASP’s CEO and a member of the GMACCC said: “Militaries around the world are responsible for planning for threats to their nation’s security. Climate change poses a clear threat; and militaries know that we cannot afford to ignore the risk. It is time for governments to listen to this latest warning from the military.”
Andrew Holland, ASP’s Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate said: “The threats from climate change are real and happening now. The longer the world waits to effectively address the problem, the worse it will get. In the 21st Century, national security is about more than just guns and bombs – it is also includes the ability to provide a stable environment. Only with concerted international action can we succeed in meeting the challenge.”
This global security threat comes primarily from the destabilizing effects of climate change. Rising sea levels and increasingly common extreme weather events can produce mass migrations, food and water insecurity, and spread disease. The report notes that these factors are particularly dangerous in less developed countries with weak or failing governments that lack the capacity to provide humanitarian relief. In combination with existing problems, climate change can spell disaster.
“Climate change indirectly increases the risk of violent conflict in the forms of civil war, inter-group violence and violent protests, by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as economic and political shocks”
The GMACCC report also noted that the ability of developed countries to provide disaster relief to unstable regions will be undermined by climate change. Militaries are often deployed to support relief efforts and are themselves directly affected by climate change. Many militaries’ presence in low-lying coastal areas and on islands and archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean is directly threatened by rising sea levels.
Often the single largest consumer of fossil fuels in any country, militaries will also need to address how they fuel their planes, tanks, and ships. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels heat the earth which in turn melts polar ice, resulting in the elevated seas that endanger military operations and infrastructure.
The report offers multiple solutions to the multifaceted security problems posed by climate change. One simple answer is for militaries to switch from petroleum-based fuels to biofuels, which could cut GHG emissions by more than 30%. This process is already underway in the U.S. Air Force, which pledged to use biofuels for 50% of its domestic fuel consumption by 2016, and in the Navy, which Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn recently testified will start integrating advance biofuels in 2015. More complex solutions included developing ‘resilience strategies’ to plan for population displacement. The report proposed that the military should take an active role in refugee support by making use of military bases as medical centers and support areas for refugees.
GMACCC’s report affirms much of what has been written about climate change at ASP. Both GMACCC and ASP agree that climate change will act as a ‘threat multiplier’, putting pressure on militaries to address growing security threats on multiple fronts. Mass migrations, reduced food production, and conflict over scarce resources are all jointly forecasted by GMACCC and ASP.
Fortunately, we also agree on what needs to be done. The world’s militaries will need to lead the way, using their well-developed risk management strategies and coordination capabilities to adapt to the effects of climate change already underway and plan for those still to come. Militaries have the capacity to provide emergency infrastructure and disaster relief on a global scale and should not shy away from taking a leading role in the fight against climate change.
You can read the GMACCC press release here.