Main takeaways from the Montréal Climate Summit 2023

Written by Zsanett Gréta Papp

Montreal Climate Security Summit, an annual global gathering bridging the realms of security and the environment, took place on November 1-2, 2023. Various concerns were discussed, such as viewing climate change as a catalyst for heightened security risks and threats, as well as considering the involvement of NATO forces. The Summit underscored the imperative of adopting a holistic strategy to tackle climate change as a security issue and emphasised the pivotal role of NATO in addressing these complex challenges.

NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan

Certainly, climate change falls squarely within NATO’s purview, prompting a closer examination of the Alliance’s self-perception and its role in the evolving “climate space” and emerging theatres. Over a span of two days, speakers explored the imperative of implementing the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan.

On the first day, Panel 3, moderated by Daphné Beaudoin from the Université du Québec à Montréal, centred on the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan. The panel featured guest speakers Katarina Kertysova, Policy Officer in the Climate Security unit of the Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO; Erin Sikorsky, Director of The Center for Climate and Security; Dr. Simon Dalby, Professor Emeritus at Wilfrid Laurier University; and Diego F. Osorio, Fellow in the Weatherhead Scholars Program at Harvard University. The discussion delved into various reasons underlining the acknowledgement of the profound impacts of climate change on both the Alliance and global security.

Numerous instances underscore NATO’s recognition of the implications of climate change on its operations, missions, and weaponry. The rapidly evolving strategic environment, shaped by climate change, is influencing every facet of NATO’s activities. Katarina Kertysova highlighted specific areas of concern:

  • NATO’s weapons and equipment are often optimized for specific temperature ranges.
  • Coastal floods pose a heightened risk of severe infrastructural disruptions to installations.
  • Warmer oceans present challenges for ships in terms of operation and engine cooling.

The tangible outcomes of climate change are directly altering NATO’s approach to planning and executing military operations, given the diverse strategic environments affected. As climate change transitions from a mere risk multiplier to a standalone security vulnerability, it necessitates integration into NATO’s mission profile and strategic considerations.

Another compelling reason for the urgency of an action plan is the ongoing green transition in the civilian sector. NATO is required to assume a role in the “climate space” as the civilian sector invests in energy infrastructure capacity building. The greater the investments in the civilian sector, the more NATO is confronted with security vulnerabilities and infrastructure challenges, amplifying the need for a comprehensive response.


Hence, NATO’s role is evolving from merely engaging in environmental scientific research to treating climate change as a strategic imperative in its operations. The pivotal moment in this transition was the adoption of NATO 2023, inclusive of the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan (CCSAP), at the 2021 Brussels Summit. The NATO CCSASP has 4 important pillars:

  1. Awareness
  • Escalating challenges in operating within the dynamically changing strategic environment due to climate change.
  • Central elements of this pillar encompass mission and operation awareness, along with civil preparedness.
  • Utilization of tools such as scientific and technology programs and annual security impact assessment reports on climate change becomes crucial. These tools aid in exploring the ways climate change affects the operational aspects of NATO (including installations and assets). Additionally, they assist in formulating a risk management framework for operations and missions, providing visual data for states and decision-makers.
  • Adoption
  • The assimilation of knowledge and newfound insights within NATO should manifest in concrete actions. This involves not only adapting physical assets and installations but also restructuring procurement, training practices, and capability development.
  • Mitigation
  • Representing the most ambitious facet of the initiative, this element establishes climate targets for NATO and its entities, encompassing both political and military structures. The goal is to reduce emissions resulting from military operations, including those associated with AWACS and NATO-operated AGS in Italy.
  • The overarching aim is to ensure that NATO incorporates climate change considerations into all aspects of its work.
  • Tools for achieving this include emission mappings that assist member states in mapping and measuring emissions, as the climate targets extend to the national level.
  • Outreach
  • Beyond increased engagement, NATO fosters more comprehensive exchanges between diverse actors and sectors. This effort is aimed at addressing the far-reaching security implications of climate change in a holistic manner.

„NATO as an Alliance is only as strong as its member states are” – Erin Sikorsky

The Alliance is poised to confront both direct and indirect climate risks simultaneously. Addressing these challenges hinges on the collective strength of the NATO Alliance, which is inherently tied to the capabilities of its member states. Erin Sikorsky, Director of The Center for Climate and Security, emphasizes that while NATO has historically dealt with direct threats, the emergence of indirect threats, such as floods or wildfires, necessitates a proactive response from the Alliance.

This evolving NATO profile underscores the imperative for substantial capability building within member states to effectively address these risks. Regions where states are not fully integrated into the Alliance, like the vulnerable Balkan region, may face particular challenges. Given that not all states in this region are members of the EU or NATO, these disparities could potentially create disruptions both within the Alliance and the region itself.

The most severe climate change risks

These climate challenges possess an indirect nature, presenting intersectional complexities that demand prioritized attention from NATO in building its capacities. Erin underscores that these heightened risks, intertwined with increased vulnerabilities to climate hazards, span from the internal affairs of states to the broader context of the Global North-South debate. These challenges include:

  1. Instability in the Fragile States: Climate change exacerbates complex security risks in already fragile states where internal capacities are insufficient to respond adequately.
  2. Migration-Induced Instability: Migration, influenced by climate change, significantly shapes NATO’s capacity-building efforts, especially concerning border security measures like surveillance and enforcement. The potential for environmental threats necessitates a focus on addressing political challenges arising from closed borders, which could also amplify tensions within the Alliance.
  3. Resource Exploration and Exploitation: Climate change-driven urgency for access to critical minerals and fish stocks introduces new risks and reconfigures the geopolitical map, altering the significance of countries in these contexts.
  4. Climate Financing Challenges: The issue of climate financing, particularly the disparity between the Global North and South in terms of capabilities and capacities, is critical. As COP28 in the UAE highlights, NATO needs to consider how demands from the Global South may pose threats and how it can effectively manage them. The emerging sector of raw material mining in the Global South, driven by the green transition, not only necessitates robust mining activities but also contributes to greater instability and potential conflicts, impacting global (in)security.

Arctic, the new security theatre for NATO

The Arctic is undergoing significant changes as a result of climate change, leading to increased accessibility to the region. While this improved connectivity presents opportunities for assertive strategies, it also introduces risks to the stability of the area.

In light of both economic and strategic considerations, the Arctic has emerged as a new security domain where the Alliance contends with the dual challenges of direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Keeping the peace in this new security theatre necessitates a fundamental shift in the comprehensive understanding of the Arctic region and its evolving geopolitical landscape.

Recognizing the evolving landscape, NATO is strategically shifting its focus to the North and bolstering investments in Arctic deterrence. This proactive approach reflects the Alliance’s commitment to addressing emerging security dynamics in the Arctic region.

Hence, panellists at the Summit collectively agreed and recommended a holistic security approach, urging NATO to view the Arctic through lenses of complex security dynamics. Key insights for NATO’s Arctic foreign policy include:

  • The Arctic is still considered a region for constructive cooperation, especially in climate research, due to common interests among states. However, given the complexity of the Arctic reality, the region’s stability is at risk due to the potential for Russian or Chinese espionage. This underscores the dual nature of scientific collaboration, maintaining cooperation even during times of high tensions. Achieving this objective requires a shift in the comprehensive understanding of the Arctic region and its evolving geopolitical landscape.
  • The other aspect of the reality, Russia for instance, exhibits the capacity for extensive cooperation with the Arctic Council to mitigate uncertainties in the Russian Arctic, particularly in the NSR.
  • Furthermore, the likelihood of geopolitical spillover in the region is higher than ever before, as highlighted by Whitney Lackenbauer. The international community must recognize that the threat of geopolitical spillover in the Arctic is now more immediate than ever. This situation calls for thorough systemic analyses and the implementation of comprehensive security strategies.
  • The other aspect involves addressing the vulnerability of technical data-sharing, a challenge exacerbated by divergent perspectives presented by China and Russia for both Western and their own audiences. Addressing the vulnerability of technical data-sharing is a critical facet of this reality. Notably, Sino-Russian relations are not merely sustained but are also undergoing significant developments, particularly in the context of the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.

Greening Defence: Unlocking the Operational Benefits of Decarbonized Defence and Security

The focus of the second day of the summit shifted towards addressing climate change at the operational level. The concluding panel of the two-day event delved into the imperative of making the defence sector more sustainable and explored the potential strategic advantages of achieving a net-zero military. Moderated by Michael Hosken, Policy Officer at Defence Research and Development Canada, the final discussion featured insights from Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, Non-Executive Director for Climate Change and Sustainability in the UK, and Rob Chambers, Assistant Deputy Minister for Infrastructure & Environment at the Department of National Defence.

Is Defence Paving the Way for a Green Transition?

The defence sector, including the NATO Alliance, is called upon to cultivate military readiness to address both the direct and indirect consequences of global climate change. This involves establishing stronger connections with communities affected by climate hazards. Militaries must not only be prepared to intervene in climate change-induced complex situations but also comprehend the underlying issues, such as severe drought and conflicts over water resources. The military’s role, therefore, extends beyond intervention; it is crucial for understanding the root causes of problems. This includes addressing and resolving climate-related or exacerbated conflicts on regional and global scales, contributing to reconstruction efforts, and maintaining peace in vulnerable regions.

According to the Panellists, the military, with its training in long-term thinking and consideration of various factors, is well-suited to handle intersectional security challenges using not only hard power but also soft power.

The military will have a crucial need to be present and solve climate-caused or exaggerated regional and global conflicts and help reconstruct, then maintain peace in those vulnerable regions. The military as it’s trained to think long-term and with different factors in mind (what are the options and availabilities of dealing with a complex environment) is well-suited to deal with intersectional security challenges not necessarily with hard power but with soft power as well.

A recent and notable instance underscores the vital necessity for enhanced military involvement in search and rescue operations. A few months ago, the Canadian federal government enlisted military support alongside firefighters and police to combat rapidly spreading wildfires in British Columbia. In response to a plea from the British Columbia government, the Canadian federal government extended assistance by deploying the Canadian military. This support aimed to aid in evacuations, staging, and various logistical tasks, as the provincial government had lost control over managing the extensive wildfires, posing a significant threat to people’s lives.

Advancing Environmental Sustainability in the Military

Acknowledging the considerable environmental impact of military operations is paramount, given the sector’s status as one of the leading contributors to pollution, both domestically and internationally. Notably, land-based combat vehicles and naval operations stand out as major emission sources, amplifying the impact on the delicate environment, particularly in the context of physical movements during land-based operations. The critical nature of defence infrastructures is further underscored by the heightened risk of disruptions caused by climate change.

On a positive note, the military possesses opportunities to mitigate its environmental footprint. Decarbonizing military equipment, particularly smaller vehicles, presents significant advantages. Hybrid-electric vehicles, with diesel engines maintaining battery charge for extended operational periods, offer environmentally and operationally favourable outcomes. These vehicles contribute to both environmental conservation and the well-being of military personnel and drivers, who experience fewer backup issues and improved health.

Green Defense for Peace and Environmental Protection

In addition to decarbonizing military weaponry, utilizing the military to prevent wars emerges as a pivotal and arguably the most crucial initiative. Lieutenant General Richard Nugee raises the pertinent question of the environmental and financial toll of rebuilding a nation like Ukraine if a war were to conclude. Wars are highly detrimental to carbon budgets, resulting in substantial CO2 emissions during and after ongoing operations. Preventing conflicts would yield more substantial benefits for climate and environmental preservation than merely transitioning to greener alternatives for air, land, and naval vehicles.

Lieutenant General Nugee highlights the potential of peace-enabling troops in preventing wars, a strategy that could significantly reduce the substantial carbon expenditure incurred during conflicts and subsequent rebuilding efforts. This is particularly relevant in the case of Ukraine, where troops consume fossil fuels equivalent to the annual usage of the entire Netherlands in just six months.


The Summit underscored the need for a comprehensive approach to integrate climate considerations into NATO’s operations, by recognizing climate change as a significant factor in maintaining global security.

Written by Zsanett Gréta Papp