04 February 2021

EU Armed Forces and Climate Change

Climate change, driven by human industrial emissions is increasing, for example, the rate of global warming has accelerated over the past 35 years (NASA, 2020) and with it, the likelihood of climate-related security issues. In 2006 researchers predicted that “changes in climate not only affect average temperatures but also extreme temperatures, increasing the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters” (NASA, 2005; Van Aalst, 2006). As such climate change has become a priority on European policy agendas, the subject has also drawn the attention of the European defence and security sectors (EDA, 2019a; European Commission, 2019).

Armed forces across Europe are increasingly including climate matters in their agendas since their priorities are based on their readiness, operations, and strategy to ensure their nation’s security. Climate change poses both direct and indirect risks for European military forces, including increased migration, growing instability in critical regions, possibility for alarming transformations in sensitive geopolitical areas such as the Arctic, and natural disasters on the continent. European militaries need to consider options for further cooperation considering such challenges. Most threats presented by climate change are not confined to national borders, which provides a unique opportunity for advancing the current collaborative defence and security structures.

This illustrates the necessity for armed forces to integrate climate change into their conceptualisation of contemporary European defence strategies. This study reflects on the impact of climate change on European armed forces. It seeks to detect how climate change influences existing defence patterns, and how the challenges posed by climate change can become milestones for further European interoperability. The paper is structured in three sections. Firstly, it explains how challenges like natural disasters, migration and geopolitical risks influence current European defence postures. Secondly, it provides an overview of European armed forces’ current structure, capabilities, and challenges when it comes to facing these potential climate change risks. Finally, the paper prepares the ground for discussing the prospects for further European interoperability by presenting various policy recommendations.


This introduction is part of the report 'Armed Forces and Climate Change: Adaptation and resilience in the face of in the face of threat multiplier' published in February 2021 by the European Army Interoperability Center (FINABEL).

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