NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Climate Breakdown and the Loss of Biodiversity

January 29, 2024

Defining what the operating environments of the future will look like is a key outcome of Allied Command Transformation’s Strategic Foresight work; an activity that is accomplished in close collaboration with allies to ensure a fully realized picture is generated. The future operating environment provides the conditions to which NATO needs to adapt the military instrument of power.

Climate breakdown and the loss of biodiversity stand as formidable forces reshaping our world, with implications extending into the realm of international security. These environmental challenges are not merely ecological concerns; they are potent structural forces that have the potential to profoundly impact the global security landscape.

Unchecked climate breakdown acts as a threat multiplier, exacerbating disruptions, fostering pervasive competition, and contributing to societal instability. Military operations face unprecedented challenges as extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, disrupting living conditions and essential resources. This existential challenge demands urgent attention and proactive strategies to mitigate its cascading impacts.

Rising global temperatures, driven by human activities like fossil fuel burning and deforestation, contribute to extreme weather conditions, heat stress, and rising sea levels. Vulnerable populations, agricultural systems, and vital ecosystems face heightened risks. Coastal cities become more susceptible to natural disasters, compounding the complexities of mass migrations, organized crime, and shifts in societal demographics.

As global warming continues, the interdependence of human and ecosystem vulnerability becomes increasingly evident. The loss of biodiversity and climate degradation further amplify the risks, affecting food production, water supply, and critical ecosystem services. Water and food insecurity become catalysts for mass displacement, altering human migration patterns and intensifying regional economic and social instability.

Geoengineering, the intentional manipulation of Earth’s climate, emerges as a potential response to worsening conditions. However, its short-term benefits come with uncertainties and risks, sparking international debates on governance and regulation. Moreover, the specter of climate terrorism, manifested through ecocide, poses a new threat in the security environment.

The deliberate destruction of vital commodities, such as croplands and infrastructure, exemplified by recent events in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, highlights the potential weaponization of environmental resources. As natural resource values rise, systemic disruptions to vital ecosystems and services become tools for coercion, amplifying the significance of ecological considerations in global geopolitics.

Loss of biodiversity also contributes to the emergence of new diseases and antimicrobial resistance, posing significant health challenges. The resulting disruptions will test states and societies globally, potentially leading to the collapse of weaker states and the exploitation of new vulnerabilities by external actors.

International cooperation on climate change mitigation and adaptation is crucial, yet the current trajectory suggests challenges ahead. Narratives, transitions to green energy, and the role of non-state actors in the 21st century further complicate the geopolitical landscape. Strategic competitors may exploit disruptive changes, undermining alliances through false narratives and weaponizing critical technologies.

In the face of these challenges, the Evolving Security Environment demands a comprehensive and collaborative approach. From climate adaptation to international governance, addressing the nexus of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss is imperative for building resilience and ensuring a secure future.