Source: US Air Force

Climate change and national security

Like many of you, I read the Sixth IPCC report with growing alarm. It used strong language like “unprecedented” and “irreversible.” And yet the IPCC report is written through a long and convoluted consensus process between scientists, governments and inter-government agencies. The final product we all consumed had gone through many, many edits to arrive in final form, which might have muted its sense or urgency.

There are, however, a number of other publicly available documents which need to be much more direct in their assessment, as its audience depends on them to define national strategies for leading global actors. These focus on national security risks, and climate change is most certainly a national security risk.

In the UK and US government’s own words:

The risk identified by cross-government analysis and national intelligence specialists centers not only of the risk of climate change to the US and UK (rising water levels, flooding, fires), but also to their operational military footprint (air force bases under water, forward deployment bases at risk, soldiers in extreme heat) and most critically to an increase in geopolitical risk from drought, famine, political instability and climate-caused refugee migration. It is both a national risk and a global risk.

The US and UK Defence department reports not only outline needs to integrate climate change into their operations and assessments of global risks, they are also keenly aware of the role they themselves play in the national and global crisis. A research paper published in June 2019 analysed the environmental impact of the US military and concluded that “If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal.”


The UK Ministry of Defence directly admits that “Defence accounts for 50% of the UK central Government’s emissions”. Both sets of reports outline actions the UK and US military are already taking — from investment into research for energy sources for its equipment, to adaptation technologies deployed in bases, to lowering the carbon footprint of their vast amount of real estate assets.

Examples of UK Defence innovation on climate change

The US and UK military (I will purposely leave China and other NATO allies out of this post), with their broad purchasing power, action-focused chain of command, and understanding of the risks posed by climate change, could very clearly become a funder and early adopter of mitigation and adaptation technologies. Not as a “nice to have” but as a “must have” to succeed in their mission of defending their homelands.

On a panel on the role of climate tech and the UK Government’s Net Zero policy I recently quipped:

To that, we should clearly add that Climate is a National Security Policy!

Partner at @2150-vc backing technologies that make our world more resilient and sustainable. Salvadoran-born Londoner. YGL of the @wef Father ^3