05/30/2013 - 16:17

Climate change and the military in China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States

Michael Brzoska

Brzoska is the director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy and a professor at the University...

National security agencies of four major powers—the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom—see their militaries taking on additional roles in domestic disaster relief because of the effects of global climate change. Otherwise, national security actors show drastically different responses to climate change. The US and Russian militaries are planning for a thawing of the Arctic; but outside the Arctic, Russia seems not to regard climate change as a serious national security issue. The United States, the United Kingdom, and China are studying the effect of rising sea levels on coastal military installations; Russia apparently is not. The United States and the United Kingdom have begun significant efforts to cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, but because of low domestic energy prices, the Russian military has few incentives to reduce energy consumption or increase alternative energy use. And out of deference to the government’s official position that climate change is a development rather than security issue, China’s military has largely limited its climate-related activities to mass tree planting and disaster relief. Regardless of their positions on climate change, national security entities in these four countries are not expressing much urgency or taking aggressive stands, in part due to the paucity of established knowledge about the connection between a warming climate and national security.