NATO vs Climate Change

By Lauren Ghantous

Climate change can at times seem insurmountable, especially as the world gets near the point of irreparable damage to the Earth. However, it is not too late. There is still time to implement policies and laws and reverse some of the damage done. One organization that can use its alliances and power to help combat climate change is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO consists of 30 member countries, all of whom carry their own autonomy. The NATO 2030 Report highlights six recommendations that NATO can implement to combat the effects of climate change, three of which are important to discuss. The first recommendation is that NATO should enhance its situational awareness across the High North and Arctic. Second, NATO should build on the Secretary General’s efforts to include climate change and other non-military threats in NATO planning and deliberation. Finally, NATO should use the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme in a more strategic manner to encourage the development and implementation of better green technology and smart energy. 

The Reflection Group Report notes that “NATO should enhance its situational awareness across the High North and the Arctic and, for the High North that falls within SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility, should develop a strategy that takes into account broader deterrence and defence plans (NATO 2030: United for a New Era p. 41).” The report also suggests that NATO should implement policies to safeguard freedom of navigation in the High North and adjacent regions, as well as a response mechanism for addressing aggression by other foreign actors. Furthermore, the report posits that the 2011 Alliance Maritime Strategy be modernized to “reflect new threats to transatlantic communications and NATO’s desire to keep the Arctic/High North a region of low tensions” (NATO 2030, p. 41).” The responsibilities of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) include the oversight of the High North. Therefore, a strategy should be implemented to focus on the defence of this region and the discouragement of (the activity). As one of NATO’s two strategic commanders and the head of Allied Command Operations (ACO),  the current SACEUR, General Tod D. Wolters, is also responsible for NATO’s highest military authority, the Military Committee (MC), for the conduct of all NATO military operations. Enhancing one’s situational awareness isn’t hard but it requires more work. One way this can be done is to ensure that various perspectives are included in the evaluation of multiple points of views, then applying that information to be carried out in real-time. Notably, communication is one of the most crucial skills to have, especially in organizations like NATO. If this can be mastered, it can significantly improve situational awareness and overall performance of NATO. NATO Maritime Security is currently developing the Maritime Situational Awareness (MSA) which is a great example of how both communication and data can be utilized to enhance situational awareness. According to NATO’s Centre for Maritime Research & Experimentation, the MSA will allow/permit Alliance members to determine the appropriate sensor series according to each party’s interests. This system will combine their Automated Information System (AIS), anomaly detection, sensor performance, and data fusion. These factors will aid the community in detecting any strange, unusual behavior such as unexpected ship stops or a change of course (CMRE).  These options should become formalities when training soldiers, volunteers, and employees, or developing new systems and technology, further enhancing the situational awareness of NATO and its forces. NATO seems to be serious about fighting climate change and one of the ways they are going about this is through developing new techniques and technology to aid themselves and their journey to making the world and their organization a better, safer place. 

The second recommendation highlighted in the NATO 2030 Report is that NATO should expand operations in tandem with the Secretary General’s efforts to incorporate climate change and other non-military threats into NATO’s plans, discussions, and exercises on crisis management.  (NATO 2030, p. 42).” The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has personally called for the alliance to take further action to address climate change, pointing to the organization's original mission, which is to keep people safe and guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. Climate change has posed a novel challenge to this core mission of NATO for many reasons. First, with the worsening of climate change comes the world becoming a more dangerous place for its inhabitants, with an example being natural disasters (Stoltenberg, 2020). They are growing more deadly and common, destroying everything it comes into contact with, displacing millions of people around the world, in addition to fueling conflict and adding pressure to already limited natural resources. According to the 2020 Global Report on Internal Displacement by IDMC, “at least 5.1 million people were internally displaced by disasters across 95 countries and territories as of 31 December 2019.” In consequence, NATO’s armed forces are constantly being asked to help out in disaster areas, putting those forces at risk and exerting resources that would not need to be used if these natural disasters weren’t so deadly and so many. Secondly, it makes it harder for NATO’s militaries to keep people safe (Stoltenberg, 2020). With the extreme temperatures that comes with climate change making it more difficult for NATO’s forces to work and forcing them to switch out their equipment that cannot keep up with the heat, it all affects how they operate. “I want us to look at how we can further strengthen these guidelines to fully take climate change into account. Such as by ensuring our energy and telecommunications grids can withstand more extreme weather events (Stoltenberg, 2020).” Lastly, Secretary General Stoltenberg says that everyone has a responsibility to cut emissions. A way NATO has been doing this is by running projects that reduce fuel use through their Green Defence framework. Already, through these points, Stoltenberg has given NATO a framework into how they should start fighting this threat so they can get started and take it even farther. Not only that but through the framework’s steps to decrease their environmental footprint and investing in green technology like solar panels, they have begun doing their part in cutting emissions and becoming an example for NATO’s member countries and their partners as well.

Lastly, “NATO should use the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme in a more strategic manner to push forward on developing and implementing better green technology and smart energy, including solar panels and biofuels (NATO 2030, p. 42).” The Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme promotes dialogue and cooperation between NATO member states and partner nations based on scientific research, technological innovation and knowledge exchange (“Science for Peace and Security”). NATO needs to explore how they can help the goal to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the SPS programme is a great tool to start with. This programme encourages the combining of great minds from all over to work together to find new technology and strategies that will be more effective to fight off climate change universally. Today there are a lot more resources for green and renewable energy, like solar power, wind power, hydropower, and geothermal energy, just to name a few. NATO, other organizations, companies, and corporations should begin implementing these tools in everyday life and institutions like government facilities, businesses and buildings, just as a way to start. They should also continue to work on replacing things like gasoline and burning fossil fuels with clean energy and green techniques. Moreover, NATO can continue to encourage their allies to contribute to this effort, with one example being to reduce their carbon footprint (without reducing effectiveness). To do this, General Secretary Stoltenberg proposes first helping NATO members calculate their military's specific carbon output and report it. He then suggests to consider voluntary targets for Allies to progressively cut those emissions like NATO has done with its headquarters Brussels. This is just one of many ways the alliance members can contribute to the effort to develop and implement better green technology and smart energy.

All in all, three out of the six recommendations NATO outlined in the NATO 2030 Report were examined: NATO should enhance its situational awareness across the High North and Arctic; NATO should build on the Secretary Generals’ efforts to include climate change and other non-military threats; and NATO should use the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme in a more strategic manner to push forward on developing and implementing better green technology and smart energy. Due to NATO’s purpose of bringing multiple countries from all over the world together through an alliance, this makes NATO one of the best organizations to share ideas on how to combat climate change. It not only will promote stability for their military but it also becomes safer for the people in that community and everyone involved. Combating climate change all over the world will lead to an increase in effectiveness of NATO’s security and forces since they will be able to focus more of their efforts to their security needs. Moreover, NATO is ideal because they have a variety of different member countries who each have different ideas and perspectives on topics like climate change. Having a blend of different ideas and opinions can also help to come up with a variety of good solutions that can help to combat this intangible threat. 

Works Cited 

NATO 2030: United for a New Era. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 25 Nov. 2020, pp. 1-67.

NATO. “NATO and the Security Implications of Climate Change - Virtual Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.” NATO, 

NATO. “Science for Peace and Security.” NATO,

2020 Global Report on Internal Displacement.