Our changing environment and the fate of national defense
October-December 2017
By: Nicolas Regaud

Climate change is indeed a challenge to global peace and security. It does not just affect the environment and societies. While a large number of countries are already suffering from food insecurity, insufficient water resources, desertification and the disappearance of arable land, in a context of demographic growth and often bad governance, climate change amplifies the effects of these structural weaknesses. It is now very clear that climate change is a risk amplifier and one of the main strategic challenges of this century.

By worsening food insecurity and increasing pressure on vital resources, in particular water, climate change contributes to the displacement of populations, bringing already densely populated cities to saturation, while poverty creates fertile ground for organized crime, violence and sometimes terrorism. The displacement of populations often transcends national frameworks, and we are already witnessing large-scale migratory movements at the regional and international levels that are likely to be even greater in the coming years, and the destabilizing power of these movements is naturally a cause for concern.

But my purpose in this essay is not to depict all the miseries and troubles that climate change could bring. I will instead attempt to answer the three following questions:

  • In what respect is climate change of particular concern to national defense institutions?
  • What can countries do at the national level?
  • What are the possible responses at the international and regional levels?

While diplomatic, development and environmental institutions played a crucial role in negotiating an ambitious global agreement in Paris in December 2015, and are now engaged in preventive action, defense institutions have a specific role to play in the field of peace and security. They must prepare for new risks and challenges, and may also contribute to sustainable development policies.

I will give a few examples of why the French Ministry of Defense is particularly concerned and now takes a very active role in this domain. As French territories are widespread around the world and mostly located in tropical areas prone to extreme climate events, French forces could be called upon more often to support civil authorities in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

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