NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Allied Command Transformation Enhances NATO’s Understanding of Climate Change

July 6, 2023

Allied Command Transformation is enhancing NATO’s understanding of climate change and its impacts on the Military Instrument of Power through its comprehensive futures research.

Allied Command Transformation is engaging in comprehensive and robust futures research to advance its Strategic Priority of ‘better understanding’ by examining the future operating environment of NATO’s Military Instrument of Power. These efforts will enable NATO to be more proactive in shaping the strategic environment to the Alliance’s advantage and ensure its Military Instrument of Power remains fit for purpose into the future. It will also ensure that NATO retains a decisive edge over potential adversaries by better anticipating threats and understanding the strategic environment.

The Strategic Foresight Branch has integrated considerations of climate change across its robust futures research, leveraging insights from its network of planners, futurists, think tanks and industry experts. The Strategic Foresight Analysis Reports are emblematic of this comprehensive approach, identifying the main trends of global change across the themes of politics, human security, technology, economics and resources, and environment. The Strategic Foresight Analysis Reports from 2013, 2015, and 2017, have consistently highlighted the challenges posed by climate change to the Alliance, with the 2017 report noting, for example, that “access and control of resources will likely increase competition in disputed regions and introduce the potential for conflict.”

The Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023 Report will update the Alliance’s understanding of climate change and other key trends on the future strategic environment and its implications for NATO out to 2035. In support of this effort, the Strategic Foresight Branch has recently concluded a series of workshops with experts where they identified climate change, technology and their impact on societies, as well as states and armed forces as the most important drivers of future trends. These workshops began in November 2022, with the first workshop in Berlin, Germany, addressing climate change and its potential to induce disruptive changes such as climate terrorism and geoengineering.

In addition to its Strategic Foresight Analysis Reports, the Strategic Foresight Branch has also advanced NATO’s understanding of climate change on the Indo-Pacific, the Arctic, Russia, and North Africa and the Sahel. It has also contributed to the Secretary General’s recently released Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment.

Climate change is a threat multiplier that affects NATO security, operations, and missions both in the Euro-Atlantic area and in the Alliance’s broader neighbourhood. It makes it harder for militaries to carry out their tasks. It also shapes the geopolitical environment, leading to instability and geostrategic competition and creating conditions that can be exploited by state and non-state actors that threaten or challenge the Alliance. Increasing surface temperatures, thawing permafrost, desertification, loss of sea ice and glaciers, and the opening up of shipping lanes may cause volatility in the security environment.

NATO’s approach to mitigating the risks posed by climate change is rooted in its longstanding efforts to tackle environmental security issues. This approach is structured across several lines of effort, including building international cooperation, boosting emergency response, and energy security and critical energy infrastructure protection, among others. Climate change was first acknowledged as a security challenge in the 2010 Strategic Concept, which noted that:

“environmental and resource constraints, including health risks, climate change, water scarcity and increasing energy needs will further shape the future security environment in areas of concern to NATO and have the potential to significantly affect NATO planning and operations.”

More recent efforts by the Alliance to better understand the challenge of climate change have included the NATO 2030 initiative as well as outreach activities, to engage Allies, experts, and industry on the subject.