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NATO ministers agree to climate strategy shift

Foreign ministers meeting at NATO's headquarters in Brussels (AN/NATO)
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Foreign ministers to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed on Tuesday to elevate the importance of global warming and other major environmental threats in their military planning and strategy.

During the first in-person meeting of foreign ministers at NATO’s Brussels headquarters in more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pushed for climate considerations to become a central part of the alliance’s defenses. Nations also pledged to make their militaries carbon-neutral by 2050.

The new focus on the climate crisis was made possible by the November election of U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, whose emphasis on tackling the rise in global average temperatures since the pre-industrial era abruptly reversed former President Donald Trump’s views of climate change as a “hoax.” Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, also held the job of U.N. special envoy on climate change from 2013 until 2014, when he became the NATO chief.

Despite NATO’s achievements over more than seven decades in keeping the former Soviet Union at bay and in protecting former Warsaw Pact nations, Trump had threatened the pull the United States out of the alliance due to avowed differences over its spending and strategies towards Russian and Chinese geopolitical ambitions. But under the new Biden-Harris administration, the United States has moved quickly to attempt to restore frayed ties with its traditional allies.

NATO’s 30 members are bound by the North Atlantic Treaty signed at the U.S. State Department in Washington on April 4, 1949. The military alliance was created to enforce the treaty, which was aimed at preventing the Soviet Union from trying to invade Western Europe.

Fuel cells and solar panels

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, taking part in the NATO meeting on his first official trip to Brussels, called for revitalizing the alliance and tackling its many climate-related challenges such as soldiers operating in extreme heat and Russian submarines patrolling thawed Arctic waters. “And I’ve come to Brussels because the United States wants to rebuild our partnerships, first and foremost, with our NATO allies,” he said in remarks before his meeting with Stoltenberg.

“We want to revitalize the alliance to make sure it’s as strong and effective against the threats of today as it has been in the past,” Blinken said. “We share the secretary general’s vision of a NATO that has the capabilities to deter and defend against all manner of threats to our collective security, including threats like climate change and cyber attacks.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also has announced a new emphasis on climate analysis in the Pentagon’s risk assessments, defense strategies and planning.

Last month, Stoltenberg said in a speech that NATO efforts to reduce fuel use not only benefit the environment but also save lives. Dutch soldiers increasingly use solar panels instead of diesel generators during operations, he noted, while the United States and Canada have looked at integrating solar panels into combat gear to power the growing amount of electronic equipment that soldiers must carry. Still other NATO countries have experimented with hydrogen fuel cells and batteries.

He told the foreign ministers’ meeting that NATO could become a leader in the climate-related security issues. To accomplish that, he said, they adopted a report that will increase NATO’s ability to understand, adapt and mitigate the security impacts of climate change.

“It’s about taking into account the consequences of climate change for our security,” said Stoltenberg, “and to make sure that NATO is responding on issues related to climate change and security.”

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