Climate mitigation featured prominently during NATO’s 2022 Madrid Summit. The event was mainly dedicated to reaffirming the alliance’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s continuing defence against the Russian invasion. As part of NATO’s new Strategic Concept for 2022, recognition was given to the importance of member states reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making positive steps towards integrating renewable energy into the powering of the West’s militaries. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance will reduce emissions in 2030 by 45% and be climate neutral in 2050. However, a long-promised methodology for measuring emissions of the military was not presented.
Codifying military emissions reductions as a threat
The Strategic Concept helps to direct the focus of member states’ militaries and defence sectors based on a commonly defined threat perception. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen all pretence of partnering with Moscow dropped, instead seeing President Putin’s actions as having ‘gravely altered [their] security environment’. Indeed, the escalation of financing for the procurement of weaponry destined for Kiev and the announcement of a huge expansion in NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force from 40,000 to 300,000 are clear demonstrations of the West’s continued desire to enhance their deterrence and defence capabilities in response to Russian aggression.
The alliance also recognised the importance of member state’s militaries and defence apparatus making conscious efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, in order to help contribute more towards dealing with the ‘defining challenge of our time’: climate change. The Planetary Security Initiative, as part of the International Military Council on Climate Change, has been arguing for NATO, to take greater leadership in establishing common methodologies for tracking emissions, as well as proactive steps in mitigation efforts, especially within areas such as integrating energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies into hardware and logistics especially.
“19. Climate change is a defining challenge of our time, with a profound impact on Allied security. It is a crisis and threat multiplier. It can exacerbate conflict, fragility and geopolitical competition. Increasing temperatures cause rising sea levels, wildfires and more frequent and extreme weather events, disrupting our societies, undermining our security and threatening the lives and livelihoods of our citizens. Climate change also affects the way our armed forces operate. Our infrastructure, assets and bases are vulnerable to its effects. Our forces need to operate in more extreme climate conditions and our militaries are more frequently called upon to assist in disaster relief.”
“46. NATO should become the leading international organisation when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security. The Alliance will lead efforts to assess the impact of climate change on defence and security and address those challenges. We will contribute to combatting climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency, investing in the transition to clean energy sources and leveraging green technologies, while ensuring military effectiveness and a credible deterrence and defence posture.”
Actions speak louder than words
This development should mark a historic turn in Western militaries' recognition of their own emissions contribution, following years of using ‘national security’ or ‘hard to abate’ arguments undermining serious green energy transition efforts and investments. Indeed, despite a growing desire by many Western defence officials to support a green energy transition and emissions reduction efforts, reform has been slow, with the likelihood that dependency on expensive fossil energy continues in the face of slow technological and implementation timelines, and high costs and complexity of change. The good news was the Secretary-General’s announcement of a new 1 billion euro Innovation Fund, which will support early-stage technological research into new energy, propulsion and novel materials which overlap with emissions reduction efforts.
NATO moreover aims for the new fund to complement the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic – or DIANA – to support the development of dual-use technologies. The summit saw an increase in the number of participating test centres to 63 across 9 member states, but further details on how DIANA will contribute to decarbonization are still scarce. Another issue not clarified is that of measuring emissions. A new methodology to support national emissions monitoring and measurement, whilst promised in 2021, was not presented at the Summit. This means we are still in the dark about the exact contribution of the military to global greenhouse gas emissions, making it difficult to hold the military to account for alleged emission reductions.
To learn more on why Western militaries may benefit from a green transition, click here. Or to understand how NATO and the EU could facilitate mitigation efforts, read our latest work as part of the IMCCS’s World Climate Security Report 2022, authored in conjunction with Katarina Kertysova from the European Leadership Network and Pierre Laboué from the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.