12th March 2021
The Hot Topic – Is Climate Change the Biggest Threat to Security at the Moment?
“Today, there are threats to security of a new and unprecedented kind, these threats do not divide us. They are threats which should unite us no matter from which part of the world we come, for they face us all. If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security: food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature and ocean food chains… Please make no mistake, Climate Change is the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced.”
A quote from Sir David Attenborough as he addressed the UN Meeting about the climate crisis today. So how exactly is climate change contributing to a greater security threat the whole world is tackling? Well many of those who attended the UN Meeting described the climate crisis as a ‘threat multiplier’; conveying the idea that climate change intersects with other factors which contribute to security problems. Researchers from RAND Europe and the University of Exeter were able to identify the strategic implications for UK MOD and Security activities due to climate change.
Training and Personnel
One area within the MOD and security industry, pointed out to be affected by climate change was the on-going training of military personnel at home and overseas. Existing training programmes may be disrupted due to limited availability and accessibility of said training sites. With the increasing climate crisis, places may see more rainfall and flooding than usual or drought making training facilities only available during certain times of the year. Resulting in military personnel without the Knowledge, Skills and Experience (KSE) needed to prepare for deployment. An example was given by the researchers of this study stating, “The 2019–2020 bushfires in Australia have, for example, shown that some Royal Australian Royal Air Force (RAAF) personnel were not trained to use aerial water bombers.”
When we think of climate change occurrences, they involve flooding, wildfires, cyclones and increased storms both in the UK and overseas. These climate changing events are likely to make the entire military estate including infrastructure vulnerable. Even though these disasters are less likely to happen within the UK, military commitments to territories overseas are common with the potential of humanitarian actions needed. With many infrastructures within coastal areas, rising sea levels could see these bases relocating their operations.
Differing operational environments due to climate change could also lead to upgrading or investing in new equipment which is more resilient or designed to adapt to environmental extremes. Operations in colder climates will see equipment and ships to adapt to lower water temperatures. Alternatively, hotter temperatures can damage engines and dust from these areas can impede performance. “The performance of helicopters in Afghanistan was compromised by the heat: high temperatures reduced the helicopters’ capacity for airlift, limited load-bearing capacity, and affected the helicopters’ ability to transport essential equipment and supplies.” If extremely hot temperatures are becoming more and more common, those areas which were once named as having milder climates could be facing the same failures in equipment if not properly updated.
The whole organisational structure of the Military and MoD services, with the possibility of climate events demanding more personnel, creating new roles with specific skillsets to handle these occurrences. With the uncertainty of the ever-changing climate, new skills like engineering, diplomacy and humanitarianism could be a sought-after expertise that the military and defence sector may need to factor into their recruiting processes.
As the study found, climate change could potentially affect the Armed Forces logistically speaking ultimately with increasing delays, causing supply chain issues and problems when storing supplies. “According to the MOD, climate change is likely to have adverse effects on most forms of transport, affecting flight duration, creating a need for alternative routings… and having a significant impact on fuel consumption and the requirement to store greater quantities of fuel in theatre.” These delays could result in supplies like food, water and medicine coming days later than expected, could cause detrimental effects to the survivability of personnel.
So, with these implications to the MoD a possibility if the climate crisis carries on at the speed it’s going, how does security prepare?