Preparing NATO for climate-related security challenges
Coherent Identifier 20.500.12592/n7jsv8

Preparing NATO for climate-related security challenges

4 July 2023


Ukraine is inevitably NATO’s critical focus – and will likely remain so for some time to come – but it is imperative that the war and consequent concerns over traditional security threats do not distract member states from addressing climate-related security challenges. The idea that focusing on climate security means drawing resources away from other security challenges is a false dichotomy. These policy areas are directly connected. For example, increased energy and food prices, as a result of the war in Ukraine, may fuel instability for NATO allies and partner countries. Instead, by future-proofing NATO infrastructure, equipment and operations through alternative energy resources, sustainable approaches to procurement and adopting climate change considerations in all its activities, NATO can help strengthen resilience, adapt to climate change and increase allied interoperability. Climate change and extreme weather events will jeopardize capabilities across all of NATO’s domains, as well as its personnel and infrastructure. Desertification and thawing permafrost will create new technical and geopolitical challenges. Climate impacts due to flooding and sea-level rise will potentially make NATO equipment and infrastructure inoperable, affecting NATO’s defence posture. To meet these challenges, NATO must adapt by strengthening its political and institutional structures, its mechanisms for anticipating climate risks and its operational resilience. There would be significant negative ramifications for NATO’s ability to defend and deter if the organization and allies were not to undertake climate change mitigation and adaptation action in the short term. Building political consensus among NATO allies on this critical agenda is a crucial step in enabling the alliance to take mitigation and adaptation measures. The 2023 NATO Summit and the forthcoming annual Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment are important opportunities to reflect on current climate security policies and their efficacy. At the same time, NATO must carefully consider where it can play the most effective role in tackling climate security issues. It could do this by enhancing its work with partners, such as the European Commission, the UN and civil society organizations, which may be better placed to respond in specific policy areas or contexts, such as tackling climate-related migration. NATO has an obligation to address its own carbon footprint and work with allies to reduce and report on their military emissions. This would help the organization build legitimacy in the climate space among populations of allied countries and those most directly affected by climate change. NATO has set a target of cutting civilian and military emissions of its facilities and assets by 45 per cent by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050. Decoupling military infrastructure and equipment from carbon-intensive and single fuel sources could ensure that NATO and its allies continue to move in this direction and incentivize investment and innovation in near-zero and zero-carbon solutions. For NATO and its allies, early investment in climate change adaptation can make a critical contribution to long-term resilience, reduce the fiscal impacts of climate-related events and increase military effectiveness. A failure to invest will only raise long-term operational costs, further impacting national budgets at a time when member states are still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflationary pressures. As the Defence Investment Pledge, which includes the 2 per cent of GDP guideline for military spending, is renegotiated ahead of its expiry in 2024, NATO could encourage including a climate adaptation and resilience target as a proportion of the future pledge.

Published in
United Kingdom


Anum Farhan
Project Manager, Environment and Society Programme

Signe Kossmann
Young Adviser and Former Research Assistant, International Security Programme

Armida van Rij
Research Fellow, International Security Programme


human rights and security international security programme climate policy managing natural resources european defence north atlantic treaty organization (nato) energy transitions environment and society programme cascades climate risks