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The Nexus of Environmental and Climate Threats: Implications for Global Security, Military Strategies, and Technological Innovations

Introduction:

Climate change is no longer an environmental buzzword; it’s a global security imperative demanding immediate attention. As climate change accelerates and environmental challenges intensify, the world is witnessing a shift in the dynamics of geopolitical landscapes, military strategies, and technological innovations. The once-distant threat is rapidly manifesting in tangible ways, destabilizing nations, fueling conflicts, and challenging traditional notions of military preparedness.

This article explores the multifaceted impact of environmental and climate threats on global security, outlines the responses from military entities worldwide, and delves into the pivotal role of technology in addressing and mitigating these challenges.

 

Environmental and Climate Threats:

Climate change is defined as the shift in climate patterns mainly caused by greenhouse gas emissions from natural systems and human activities. So far, anthropogenic activities have caused about 1.0 °C of global warming above the pre-industrial level and this is likely to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 if the current emission rates persist.

Climate change isn’t just about melting glaciers anymore. It’s a real-time security threat unfolding through record-breaking heatwaves, devastating floods, and intensifying wildfires. 2022 was the 6th hottest year on record, putting us on track for dangerous warming beyond the Paris Agreement goals.

A hotter planet will increasingly lead to security challenges.Millions suffer through extreme weather displacement, food insecurity, and health risks like heatstroke and waterborne diseases. This isn’t some far-off future; it’s happening now, from Pakistan’s devastating floods to Europe’s record-breaking summer heat. Sea levels are rising faster than ever, threatening coastal communities.

The planet faces a range of environmental and climate threats, including rising temperatures, extreme weather events, sea-level rise, biodiversity loss, and resource scarcity.

A Global Security Nightmare:

  • Heatwaves and droughts: Intensifying extremes are breeding food insecurity, displacing populations, and sparking resource conflicts. In East Africa, the worst drought in decades threatens 40 million people with famine, while water scarcity fuels tensions in regions like the Middle East.

  • Sea level rise: Coastal communities worldwide are facing inundation, salination of groundwater, and forced migration. Small island nations, like Tuvalu, are on the brink of disappearing, posing existential threats to their very existence.

  • Extreme weather events: Superstorms, floods, and wildfires are becoming more frequent and ferocious, inflicting widespread devastation and disrupting critical infrastructure. Hurricane Fiona’s recent rampage across the Caribbean highlights the vulnerability of island communities.

Humidity and heat could make large parts of the tropic zones uninhabitable for at least part of the year. Many of the glaciers in the Himalaya that provide a reliable source of water for more than a billion people are likely to disappear. Many coastal cities risk being submerged. Billions of people may be faced with high levels of water stress or food scarcity, and many may migrate towards more habitable parts of the planet. In the decades to come, and certainly in the second half of this century, climate change will become the biggest challenge humankind has ever faced.

Beyond Environmental Degradation:

These challenges not only pose direct risks to ecosystems and vulnerable populations but also create a complex web of interconnected security issues. The changing climate contributes to resource conflicts, displacement of communities, and increased geopolitical tensions over access to essential commodities like water and arable land.

The security implications of climate change extend far beyond environmental damage. It’s a potent threat multiplier, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and fueling instability:

  • Conflict breeding grounds: Competition for dwindling resources like water and fertile land is creating new friction points and reigniting old conflicts. The Syrian civil war, partly fueled by drought-induced agricultural collapse, serves as a stark reminder.

  • Forced migration: Climate-induced displacement is on the rise, creating humanitarian crises and straining host countries’ resources. Estimates suggest 216 million people could be displaced by climate change by 2050, triggering social unrest and political instability.

  • Vulnerable infrastructure: Critical infrastructure, including power grids and transportation networks, is increasingly susceptible to climate extremes, hindering emergency response and economic activity.

The United Nations estimates that 40% of internal conflicts have direct or indirect links to natural resources. Criminal organizations exploit environmental crimes, intertwining their activities with the degradation of ecosystems. The defense industry, despite contributing to pollution, plays a role in peacebuilding efforts to address environmental insecurity.

In addition, according to the Interpol United Nations Environmental Program annual report, illegal activities that are involved with the environment by diversity or natural resources are often lucrative. Hence criminal organizations are motivated to mix their activities with environmental crimes, in order to spread their criminal network and increase their profits. This means, that those who profit of environmental insecurity are likely to have easy access to weapons and international network. Therefore, it’s not surprising that environment emerged as a significant international peacebuilding priority.

 

Military Responses and Adaptations:

The Conversation reported in 2019, analysis has revealed that the US military is “one of the largest polluters in history”. The study showed that the “US military is a bigger polluter than as many as 140 countries”. Meanwhile, research carried out for Declassified UK in 2020 found that “Britain’s military-industrial sector annually emits more greenhouse gases than 60 individual countries”. Declassified UK said the emissions produced by the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD), along with its supply chain, were up to 11 times more than the government department admits.

Military leaders believe climate change seriously threatens U.S. national security. They contend it is stirring up chaos and conflict abroad, endangering coastal bases and stressing soldiers and equipment, which undermines military readiness.

Armed forces around the world are recognizing the strategic importance of addressing environmental and climate threats. Militaries are increasingly factoring climate change into their planning processes, acknowledging its potential to exacerbate existing conflicts and create new security challenges.

Recognizing the gravity of the threat, militaries worldwide are adapting. The US Department of Defense, for example, has identified climate change as a “national security threat multiplier” and is integrating its impact into strategic planning. Similarly, NATO has recognized the security implications of climate change and is incorporating it into its operations and planning.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations have become integral components of military missions, highlighting the need for armed forces to adapt to the changing environment. Additionally, militaries are investing in renewable energy sources, eco-friendly technologies, and sustainable practices to reduce their environmental footprint.

Global Security Implications:

The intertwining of environmental challenges and global security is evident in various regions. In the Arctic, melting ice caps open up new maritime routes, leading to increased geopolitical competition for access to these strategic waterways and the region’s vast resources. Rising sea levels pose a threat to low-lying coastal nations, potentially resulting in mass migrations and geopolitical conflicts over habitable land. Additionally, resource scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, can trigger conflicts over essential commodities, further destabilizing regions already grappling with political unrest.

Climate Change Mitigation Strategies

There are three main climate change mitigation approaches, First, being the conventional mitigation efforts  that employ decarbonization technologies and techniques that reduce CO2 emissions, such as renewable energy, fuel switching, efficiency gains, nuclear power, and carbon capture storage and utilization. The most prominent technologies include photovoltaic solar power, concentrated solar power, solar thermal power for heating and cooling applications, onshore and offshore wind power, hydropower, marine power, geothermal power, biomass power and biofuels. One of the main technological challenges associated is the intermittent nature/variability in power production. This has been overcome by integrating such technologies with storage as well as other renewable baseload and grid technologies.

Whilst the adoption of renewable sources of energy would undoubtedly reduce the carbon impact of digital technologies, their negative side-effects must also be taken into consideration. For example, digital technologies are a crucial enabling element for smart motorways and self-driving electric cars. Unless electricity for these cars and communication networks is produced from renewable sources the replacement of petrol and diesel cars by electric ones will have little impact on carbon emissions. However, the shift to renewable production will lead to a very significant environmental impact through the construction of wine turbines and solar farms.

 

A second route constitutes a new set of technologies and methods that have been recently proposed. These techniques are potentially deployed to capture and sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and are termed negative emissions technologies, also referred to as carbon dioxide removal methods (Ricke et al. 2017).  The technology consists of separating and capturing CO2 gases from processes that rely on fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas. The captured CO2 is then transported and stored in geological reservoirs for very long periods. The main objective is the reduction in emission levels while utilizing fossil sources.

Policy Brief: negative emissions - Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC)

It is argued that negative emissions technologies should be deployed to remove residual emissions after all conventional decarbonization efforts have been maximized and that such approach should be utilized to remove emissions that are difficult to eliminate through conventional methods .The main negative emissions techniques widely discussed in the literature include bioenergy carbon capture and storage, biochar, enhanced weathering, direct air carbon capture and storage, ocean fertilization, ocean alkalinity enhancement, soil carbon sequestration, afforestation and reforestation, wetland construction and restoration, as well as alternative negative emissions utilization and storage methods such as mineral carbonation and using biomass in construction

 

Finally, a third route revolves around the principle of altering the earth’s radiation balance through the management of solar and terrestrial radiation. Such techniques are termed radiative forcing geoengineering technologies, and the main objective is temperature stabilization or reduction. Unlike negative emissions technologies, this is achieved without altering greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The main radiative forcing geoengineering techniques that are discussed in the literature include stratospheric aerosol injection, marine sky brightening, cirrus cloud thinning, space-based mirrors, surface-based brightening and various radiation management techniques. All these techniques are still theoretical or at very early trial stages and carry a lot of uncertainty and risk in terms of practical large-scale deployment.

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Technology can also mitigate some of the migration challenges. Technology has shown promise in many ways, such as facilitating the operations of aid organizations and providing a means of communication among displaced people, for example, providing internet connectivity and access, supporting communication with family and friends, providing education and employment opportunities, facilitating distribution of housing and other resources, and providing a record of information about a displaced person’s identity.

 

Nowadays, technology can provide several instruments to predict, avoid, and manage environmental conflicts, environmental migration, and environmental crimes. The negative effect of environmental deterioration and poor management of natural resources have intensified the search for a more comprehensive security concepts in the scientific, political and military community.

 

In this modern migration, smartphone maps, global positioning apps, social media and WhatsApp have become essential tools. Migrants depend on them to post real-time updates about routes, arrests, border guard movements and transport, as well as places to stay and prices, all the while keeping in touch with family and friends. The majority of refugees stated that common platforms, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, were the most important and most frequently used because of their ubiquity, their community groups for refugees, and their low cost. Refugees also used digital technology in seeking health care outside of traditional or official networks. This included using smartphone applications (apps) to find a doctor or to gain information to support self-care.

Role of Digital technology in Climate Change

The digital technology industry, while transformative, is paradoxically one of the least sustainable and environmentally damaging sectors globally. Operating on a replacement-centric model, where devices are often replaced every two years, the industry contributes significantly to carbon emissions. The production of a single mobile phone, for instance, results in 55 kilograms of carbon emissions, equivalent to 26 weeks of laundry. In 2018, a staggering 1.9 billion mobile phones were sold, collectively creating a carbon footprint comparable to the annual emissions of a country like the Philippines.

The hardware-software development cycle further exacerbates environmental issues, compelling users to upgrade their equipment regularly. Despite attempts at recycling, electronic waste (e-waste) remains a critical problem, containing harmful substances and causing severe environmental damage. E-waste, often shipped to poorer countries, has led to environmental degradation in these regions.

Moreover, digital technologies rely on rare minerals, often extracted through environmentally damaging methods involving child labor and contributing to violence and conflict over resources. The proliferation of new cell towers, antennae, and infrastructure for technologies like 5G also contributes significantly to environmental degradation.

The carbon impact of the digital technology sector is underestimated, with estimates suggesting it emits around 2% of global CO2 emissions, surpassing the airline industry. Some projections even indicate that the sector could emit up to 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Additionally, the proliferation of satellites in space poses a considerable environmental threat, with space debris potentially causing catastrophic collisions.

Technology’s Role in Mitigation and Adaptation:

Despite these environmental challenges, technology also plays a crucial role in climate mitigation. Various approaches, such as renewable energy, fuel switching, nuclear power, and carbon capture storage and utilization, aim to reduce CO2 emissions. The adoption of renewable energy sources is crucial, but their production has environmental consequences, such as the construction of wind turbines and solar farms.

Technology plays a pivotal role in addressing environmental and climate threats. Advanced satellite systems and remote sensing technologies enable better monitoring of environmental changes, aiding in disaster prediction and response. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms can analyze vast datasets to model climate scenarios and inform policy decisions. Renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, contribute to reducing dependence on fossil fuels, thereby mitigating climate change. Innovations in sustainable agriculture and water management technologies also play a crucial role in adapting to changing environmental conditions.

Climate Change Tech Breakthroughs: Battling for a Greener Future

The fight against climate change demands bold solutions, and a wave of exciting technologies is rising to the challenge. Across diverse fields, researchers and innovators are crafting breakthroughs that offer hope for a cleaner and more sustainable future. Let’s delve into some of these technological trailblazers:

Direct Air Capture (DAC): Imagine breathing the air cleaner. DAC technology does just that, sucking CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Companies like Climeworks and SkySource are spearheading this effort, with large-scale DAC plants already operational. Projects like the Orca plant in Iceland permanently store captured carbon underground, while others, like Carbon Engineering’s Air to Fuels facility in Canada, transform it into clean-burning synthetic fuels.

Advanced Renewable Energy: Solar and wind power are no longer niche options. Innovations like bifacial solar panels, which absorb light from both sides, and floating offshore wind farms are pushing efficiency and scalability boundaries. Even space-based solar power satellites are being envisioned, capturing the sun’s energy continuously beyond the clouds. To ensure reliable distribution of this renewable bounty, advancements in energy storage, like solid-state batteries, are critical.

Clean Hydrogen: Forget fossil fuels, hydrogen is the new fuel kid on the block. Electrolyzers powered by renewable energy can create clean hydrogen, powering everything from trucks and buses to factories and even airplanes. Airbus’ ZEROe concept plane exemplifies this potential, aiming for zero-emission aviation through liquid hydrogen fuel cells. Building robust infrastructure for hydrogen production, storage, and refueling stations is key to unlocking its full potential.

Smart Grids and Artificial Intelligence: Imagine an intelligent energy grid, seamlessly integrating diverse renewable sources, predicting demand fluctuations, and optimizing distribution. This is the vision of smart grids, powered by AI and machine learning. By optimizing production and consumption, smart grids can significantly reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Projects like New York’s REV Connect program and Ausgrid’s AI-powered network monitoring system demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach.

Sustainable Agriculture: Feeding the world without harming the environment is a delicate dance. Precision agriculture, utilizing sensors and AI to optimize fertilizer and water usage, offers a sustainable solution. Additionally, vertical farming, like Plenty’s indoor leafy green production, and cellular agriculture research on lab-grown meat and seafood, provide promising alternatives to traditional, resource-intensive farming practices.

Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU): Capturing CO2 isn’t enough; we need to find ways to use it productively. CCU technologies convert captured carbon into valuable products like synthetic fuels, building materials, and even chemicals. LanzaTech’s ethanol production from waste gases and C2C Company’s CO2-based building materials exemplify this approach, reducing reliance on traditional emission-intensive materials. Projects like Climeworks and Porsche’s AirCapture, which converts captured CO2 into synthetic fuel for racing cars, showcase the potential of CCU in transportation.

Geoengineering Solutions: Ideas like reflecting sunlight back into space with stratospheric aerosols or enhancing ocean CO2 absorption through artificial reefs are controversial but hold potential for large-scale atmospheric cooling. However, thorough research and international cooperation are crucial before considering any large-scale deployment of these potentially impactful technologies.

These are just a glimpse of the innovative technologies fighting climate change. By showcasing these diverse and evolving solutions, we can inspire hope and ignite action towards a cleaner and more sustainable future. Remember, by exploring specific examples, highlighting local breakthroughs, and discussing ethical considerations, we can contribute to a deeper understanding and wider engagement with these crucial tech advancements. Let’s empower ourselves and our communities to be part of the solution, using technology as a potent weapon in the fight against climate change.

 

Removing and Utilizing Carbon Dioxide

Greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2 from various sources like transportation and industry, have contributed to a rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations to a record 421 ppm in May 2022. Climate change, driven by these emissions, has led to altered rainfall patterns globally, resulting in severe weather events and challenges for crop production, impacting food security.

The ACCeSS (Active Carbon Capture for Sustainable Synthesis) research project, coordinated by Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU), has secured funding from the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The project, led by Prof. Dr. Lutz Schmitt of HHU and involving Prof. Björn Usadel from Forschungszentrum Jülich, aims to actively reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, addressing one of the primary causes of anthropogenic climate change.

The ACCeSS project, a collaboration between RWTH, HHU, and Forschungszentrum Jülich, leverages expertise in biotechnology, membrane biology, bioinformatics, computer science, materials science, and production engineering. The strategy involves capturing CO2 from the environment using microorganisms coupled with self-replicating metabolic cycles. Synthetic biology methods will be employed to convert captured CO2 into high-value compounds, utilizing solar energy and nutrients in wastewater in a circular process.

Conclusion:

The nexus of environmental and climate threats has far-reaching implications for global security, necessitating collaborative efforts from governments, militaries, and the technology sector. As nations grapple with the security challenges posed by a rapidly changing climate, a holistic approach that combines military adaptability, diplomatic cooperation, and technological innovations is crucial. Addressing environmental and climate threats is not only an imperative for the well-being of the planet but is also intrinsic to maintaining global stability and security in the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10311-020-01059-w

https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/the-defense-industry-an-overlooked-environmental-villain/

https://www.ictworks.org/digital-technologies-climate-change-problem/#.YAOF6zmSlPY

 

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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