The primary objectives of our military are to address today’s challenges, whilst preparing for tomorrow’s.
Analysing the new and emerging threats to the UK’s interests at home and overseas, the MoD’s “Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2040” identified climate change as one of the ‘Ring Road issues’ – primary drivers of global change in that period. The physical impacts of climate change – rising sea levels, increased desertification and so on – raise interesting military questions, but our main focus is on the secondary and tertiary impacts of those changes.
The Global Strategic Trends analysis concludes that climate change will “amplify existing social, political and resource stresses, shifting the tipping point at which conflict ignites, rather than directly causing it.” (Global Strategic Trends, p.27) This raises significant potential challenges for the military – for example: what do those changes mean for migration, for pressure on trade routes and for multiplication of stress in already fragile parts of the world?
The military response has the same two objectives as the civilian approach – to adapt, and to mitigate. Adapting means ensuring that defence has the appropriate capabilities to deliver the outcomes that we are tasked to do in the environment that we find ourselves operating. The impacts of climate change will affect both the outcomes with which we are tasked, and the environments in which we operate.
Today before deploying Royal Navy ships to the Caribbean we train and equip the crews to provide HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) and deal with the aftermath of hurricanes – in the future we may need to be replicate this training before deploying elsewhere in the world. At the same time we may find ourselves helping to develop the skills and capacity of law enforcement agencies, such as coastguards, in those parts of the world that will be most severely effected. At home we’re also making sure that our infrastructure in the UK is resilient to the impacts of climate change at home – for instance firing ranges in low-lying coastal areas may need protecting or relocating.
It’s also important that we do our bit. The MoD is committed to delivering reductions in GHG equivalent emissions. The armed forces are responsible for about 1% of total UK emissions – matching the 1% of the UK landmass that we own. Identifying ways to reduce our emissions also helps improve our operational efficiency in theatre – switching from petrol generators to solar panels in the field will reduce the amount of fuel that has to be transported to the frontline.
Transporting fuel puts additional lives in danger, and greatly increases the financial cost of operation. Likewise, reducing the hull friction of our warships has delivered improvements in fuel efficiency. Our suppliers are also innovating – we are working with industry to find new ways of improving our energy efficiency and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
We’re not alone in recognising these threats – colleagues overseas have reported running out of helicopter hours mid-year due to the increased incidences of extreme weather events. We’re also not alone in looking for solutions – last year the US Navy launched the F-18 “Green Hornet” fighter jet flying on a 50/50 biofuel blend.
Collaborating on recognising and managing the impacts of climate change can help underpin the political resolve to tackle its causes. Hopefully, just as solar pv emerged from military/industrial innovation, we can also be part of the solution.