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Afghan Air Force & NATO react to flood | Photo: Lt. Col. Jimmie Barrow for NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/ [CC BY-SA 2.0]

The traditionally unassuming role played by security organizations in climate deliberations is being turned upside-down. As climate threats undermine global security, military agencies and reactive bodies must look at climate change as more than just an environmental issue. We spoke to Jan Broeks, Director General of the International Military Staff at NATO, at the Planetary Security Conference 2017 about NATO’s role in this shifting paradigm.


Is there an overlap between climate change impacts and NATO’s scope of action?

When impacts caused by climate change bring threats to security and stability, then it becomes a problem that directly relates to NATO’s field of activity. As migration increases, it also becomes increasingly difficult to guarantee regional stability. And what we have learned from recent climatic events is that global migration is set to increase, particularly to NATO countries, as these are still less afflicted by environmental distress.

One thing is clear: security at home can only happen if there is security abroad. As an interstate organization, NATO operates inside its jurisdiction; however, climate change impacts transcend these borders. This is why NATO has incorporated ‘security abroad’ in its projecting stability and corporate security efforts. An important part of this is offering ongoing support to actors with higher levels of expertise on climatic elements of security, such as local communities, local authorities, the United Nations and the European Union. We are not leaders when it comes to climate, but we support efforts on mitigating climate threats with the capacities that we have.

NATO is not known for cooperation with non-state actors, and yet, it participated in the Planetary Security Conference. Is the organization becoming more open to cooperation with new players?

When it comes to climate, NATO must learn from others. Not only at the Planetary Security Conference, but also in other fora on climate change, I had the opportunity to listen and exchange ideas with local actors and members of international organizations, and I was really inspired by their statements.

I listened to Rhissa Feltou, the Mayor of Agadez in central Niger, explain how local initiatives are aiming to increase efficiency and curb climate change impacts in this region, which is highly vulnerable to conflicts over resources. It is encouraging to see how much can be done by local actors with so little resources and support. It is a reminder that there is much more to be done, and a lot to be learned from those with hands-on experience on climate change!

Which are the reasons that drive you – both as a NATO officer and a world citizen – to look at climate change?

For NATO, there are two elements of its involvement in climate security: firstly as a security provider and secondly as a responsible consumer in this global arena. While the first element is deeply entrenched in the organization’s strategy, for the second there is a lot of work ahead of us. We still depend on resources such as fossil fuels, water and energy, so this entails a need to be responsible, plan ahead and aim to achieve a better environmental footprint in the near future.

Personally, I think we owe it to future generations. The world that we are bequeathing to them at the moment is not as secure as the world that former generations have left to us. So if we know that climate change offers serious threats to global security, and that these will tend to worsen if not counteracted, then it is the responsibility of this generation to act.


Further reading:

Climate Change and NATO: A New Study

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