The UK needs to adapt its military to climate change, but does it have the funds and troop support?
The UK has legislated for the country to meet the Paris Agreement target on climate change, reducing national greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Prime Minister Boris Johnson s ‘is personally committed to making it happen. The UK has an ambitious national plan to bring about the necessary transformations in energy use in the private and public sectors. The Department of Defense is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK central government, responsible for half of the total.
As the UK hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, in November 2021, the Department of Defense released its ‘Strategic Approach to Climate Change and Sustainability’, a plan military adaptation to climate change. If there is a country with a more elaborate strategy for adapting its military to climate change, we ignore it here at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The strategy recognizes that climate change – in particular the increasing number of extreme weather events, sea level rise and desertification – is already acting as a potential accelerator of insecurity and armed conflict, both in within and between states in areas important to the security of the UK. The IISS is already seeing this in Somalia and the Sahel.
The Department of Defense believes this will not only increase demands for international and domestic humanitarian aid as well as disaster relief missions, but will also have negative effects on British bases and forces deployed at home and abroad. foreign, such as troops, ships and planes deployed in the Gulf. .
The strategy states that the British forces must become much less dependent on fossil fuels. It describes a step-by-step approach to attempt to meet and manage the challenges encountered. In the short term (the next five years), the actions include the cataloging of emissions and the identification of reduction targets, with a focus on the field of defense: barracks, docks, aerodromes and training areas. The British intend not to buy carbon offsets for their forces, but to offset the inevitable emissions by capturing the carbon for themselves.
The goal for 2026-2035 will be to “significantly reduce emissions” by using existing and emerging technologies to reduce carbon production. In the long term, from 2036 to 2050, the ministry will look to “new technologies” to further reduce emissions. This recognizes that many current “green” technologies are not yet mature enough to be applied to military equipment, such as combat aircraft and heavy armored vehicles.
For example, the Boxer armored vehicle enters service with a diesel engine and conventional transmission, so a significant reduction in emissions would not pay off until the vehicle was upgraded at mid-life. This argues for the introduction of new technologies as they mature and existing equipment is upgraded.
The Ministry of Defense intends to adopt a “quick follower” approach, relying on carbon reduction technology being developed by the civilian sector, as well as military-specific measures. For example, the strategy estimates that in the land, sea and air domains, robotic and autonomous systems, due to the absence of crew on board, will have lower emissions than their manned counterparts.
Military aviation is responsible for about two-thirds of the Ministry of Defense’s fuel consumption. British military planes have been allowed to use up to 50 percent sustainable fuel and are investigating how to achieve 100 percent sustainable fuel consumption. The Royal Air Force is aiming for its next basic trainer aircraft to be carbon neutral. The RAF also plans to use man-made environments much more to reduce training flights. This should reduce aviation fuel consumption. The service has ambitious plans for medium and long term carbon emissions targets, including the goal of having a carbon neutral domain by 2040.
The British military is erecting solar panels on its bases, planting 2 million more trees on its estate and experimenting with hybrid electric drives on Jackal wheeled reconnaissance vehicles. Army chief Gen. Mark Carleton Smith has publicly said that unless the military’s values are seen to embrace climate security, it will struggle to recruit young Britons, many of whom care. a lot of the climate.
The Royal Navy is showing the same enthusiasm and claiming that its recently launched patrol boats are the greenest ships in its fleet.
The UK plan depends on funding decisions that will be taken over the next 15 years. While the recent increase in funding for defense-related research and development is helpful, there are many financial decisions that will need to be made in the period 2026-2035. Key factors influencing these decisions will be how the UK economy recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s broader national energy transformation.
There are risks that some military personnel fear that measures to make equipment “green” reduce performance, especially against adversaries who choose to keep older equipment. Changing attitudes and culture in the armed forces could be a huge challenge. However, others argue that there is not necessarily a trade-off between environmental benchmarks and operational efficiency, for example arguing that “green means lean” for military logistics.
These are challenges shared by many armed forces around the world, especially those whose governments intend to achieve the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Many defense ministries and armed forces could learn UK policy and plans for military climate adaptation.
Retired Brick. Ben Barry is a senior researcher in land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.