Feb 28 2007
Climate Security and the Ministry of Defence
By Chris Littlecott
Article Published in
- Climate and Energy Security - News & Comment
- Climate and Energy Security - Delivering Climate Security
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Riots, looting, chaos, panic, curfews, wars and famine: what the security chiefs are not telling you about climate change , declared the front page of New Statesman magazine at the end of January as it carried a special report on the impact of climate change.
The New Statesman’s series of articles on climate change opened with a statement of transatlantic interest, and possible political intent, thanks to an article by Tony McDermott, adviser to Al Gore, which warned that
The world must urgently face up to the global violence and conflict that would result from rapid climate change .
It was, however, the article ‘A matter of security’ which more fully captured my attention. This piece was written by Josh Arnold-Forster, previously special adviser to John Reid at the Ministry of Defence from 2005 to 2006, and sought to answer the question
Why is the MoD so seriously concerned about global warming?
Arnold-Foster immediately takes us into the heart of the Ministry of Defence’s interest in climate change:
The Ministry of Defence is not known for its concern for the environment. Nevertheless there is one group of people at the MoD very interested in climate change and, in particular, catastrophic climate change - namely the strategic planners.
The reason for their interest is pretty simple:
They know that the armed forces can react and adapt very rapidly to limited changes in the strategic environment. What the forces cannot do is meet a fundamentally different kind of challenge from the one with which they are equipped to deal… That is why the MoD’s planners insist on trying to look ahead several decades. Of course, much of this futurology is speculative, subjective and all too frequently wrong. But one trend on which there is ever greater scientific certainty is the impact of climate change.
He then draws attention to the fact that a recent MoD discussion note identified climate change as one of four strategically important themes, and which stated that:
The combined effects of increased global human activity, economic output and population growth look likely to intensify pressure on the environment and food, water and energy resources. This trend will be exacerbated by urbanisation and the creation of ‘mega-cities’, while industrialisation and personal expectations in developing countries will strain all resources.”
This view will of course be familiar to many environmentalists, harking back to the days of the ‘Limits to Growth’ report of 1972. What makes a difference now is that potential impacts are coming into the time horizon of military planners.