Militaries will bear the brunt of worse disasters if world fails to strike emissions reduction deal in 2015, says Jamie Shea
By Ed King
One of NATO’s most senior officials says militaries could find themselves overwhelmed by the scale of natural disasters if a global agreement to tackle climate change is not reached in Paris next year.
In an interview with RTCC, Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, said projected temperature rises above and beyond 2C were alarming the global security community.
Further global warming had the potential to exacerbate what he termed the “development-terrorism nexus”, encouraging Al Qaeda and other terror groups, as well as placing extreme stress on military efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to areas affected by drought, flooding or storms.
“If we do nothing and there is no agreement, we could go up to more alarming scenarios. Then even the military, particularly with the budgets we have at the moment, could be somewhat overwhelmed,” he told RTCC.
“So purely in terms of managing the challenges we have at the moment, we can’t afford to make this problem worse than it is already.”
NATO does not have an official position on the UN’s proposed climate treaty, but Shea said he agreed with those who believe global warming is one of the world’s greatest security threats.
“Personally – and if I can be so arrogant as to talk for the global security community – I think it is. The problems that we are already facing today, the fact that disasters seem to be more frequent and violent, particularly in Asia, they have a paralysing effect on the economy, electricity grid and transport system.”
Armed forces are frequently the first to arrive at areas hit by extreme weather events.
The UK and US sent aircraft carriers to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines at the end of 2013, leaving thousands dead and many more homeless.
They were joined by military personnel, ships and planes from Australia, Israel, Canada, China and Japan in a huge effort to deliver food, water and medicines to affected areas.
Along with humanitarian work, a substantial number of military forces remain stationed in the Sahel, a band of land running from east to west across North Africa.
Deteriorating rainfall patterns and land degradation have left many parts of this region uninhabitable, contributing to a series of conflicts, failed states, and spread of terror groups.
And a recent study by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that prolonged drought was likely to become “more frequent” in the Sahel due to global warming.
Shea described the latest reports by IPCC as a “wake up call”, pointing to the spread of Al Qaeda in African countries where the state can no longer provide basic amenities, such as healthcare or water.
And he added this means NATO and other leading militaries will have to start adapting to an uncertain future, investing in new intelligence and equipment, despite the ghost of the Cold War looming during the current Ukraine crisis.
“It would be very short sighted to think that suddenly that because a crisis like Ukraine has come up we can forget about all of the more intellectually demanding and complicated, but potentially much more in the long run significant causes of unrest,” he said.
Investments in clean energy and efficient weapons systems suggest military commanders already understand the need to cut fossil fuels, and ensure their supply lines are more resilient, said Shea.
The US Army is spending $7 billion in solar, wind and biomass generation capacity to ensure it is better placed to cope with global price fluctuations.
In the UK, military chiefs want individual soldiers to be mini solar power stations, with integrated panels powering their radios and other electronic equipment.
NATO’s focus on climate change could increase later this year, when former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg replaces Anders Fogh Rasmussen as chief of the organisation.
Currently serving as Ban Ki-moon’s climate change envoy, Stoltenberg arrives with a reputation as one of Europe’s most progressive and green politicians, with a keen awareness of the variety of threats posed by a warming planet. “If he can’t make the case I doubt there are candidates as well qualified to make the case,” said Shea.
“We live in a complicated word with many challenges. We can’t afford to think that with Ukraine, we can suddenly believe the rest of the world is on hold.”