Expert Insights: Crisis Response in a Changing Climate

Senior analyst Lucia Retter, is joined by Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, the non-executive director for climate change and sustainability for UK Defence, to discuss a study on the implications of climate change for UK defence logistics in crisis response situations, and how the research has informed the UK Ministry of Defence’s Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach.


Catherine McShane

Hello and welcome to RAND Europe's Expert Insights, a brief conversation in which we discuss our latest research and look more in-depth at some of the pressing policy issues of the day. I'm Cat McShane from RAND Europe. Today, we're going to be talking about a new study called Crisis Response in a Changing Climate.

Discussing the report today is one of the authors, Lucia Retter, a senior analyst in RAND Europe's Defence, Security, and Infrastructure group. And we have a special guest, Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, who's also the Climate Change and Sustainability Non-executive Director for the UK MOD. Before we start talking about the report, General Nugee, I think it might be helpful if you could explain a bit more about what your role entails.

General Richard Nugee

For the past year to fifteen months I've been writing a report for Defence on climate change and sustainability, which incorporated both a review of where we are, a large chunk of why this is relevant to Defence — because there are some skeptics out there — a little bit on a strategy and a plan.

The report was published at the end of the year and the government response to that was in March after it went to the Defence Board in January. Since then, I have been appointed as the Non-executive Director in a committee called the Defence Safety and Environment Committee that has been lengthened and increased in frequency to make sure that Defence takes climate change and sustainability and our part in it as seriously as we possibly can. And I've been appointed, if you like, as the conscience of the department to make sure that Defence does what it says it's going to do.

So not only am I an adviser and a supporter of the department in making sure climate change is actually acted on and the expectation of my report is met, but also to analyse whether the department is actually doing what it said it would do. And so I've been put into this role for a number of years in order to make sure that we embed climate change and sustainability within the department at all places to make sure that actually we react properly as a department to climate change and sustainability.

Catherine McShane

If I could put this to you first, Lucia, can you start by providing some background on the study and then why the topic is so important? And then perhaps General Nugee, you can then explain how the study fits in with the MOD's strategic approach and report that you were just discussing.

Lucia Retter

Sure. Thank you, Cat. So by now it's clear that climate change has been quite broadly acknowledged by various international organisations and national governments as one of the prominent factors that either drives or contributes to security threats. The United Nations Security Council, as well as NATO Secretary General have recognised climate change as one of the biggest, if not the biggest threat to my generation. And I guess we're seeing more and more world leaders beginning to both acknowledge the effects of climate change that climate change is already having, but also put in place some concrete policies and targets to try and minimise the global warming and drive greater environmental resilience.

I think it was early 2020, RAND Europe, as part of the Global Strategic Partnership together with the University of Exeter, prepared a study called A Changing Climate, which has a core element of basically creating a sort of analytical framework that helps policymakers understand what the implications of climate change might be and also help them identify relevant policy actions.

So effectively, what that study produced is a sort of handrail, a kind of framework for decision makers to help them walk step by step through the challenge of climate change and try and break it down into understanding, firstly, what is the latest evidence around climate change, the kind of latest scientific evidence? What is the current policy context? And then what are the challenges and opportunities that climate change poses for the area of interest? And the area of interest can be anything. I mean, in the defence context it could be defence logistics, it could be defence training equipment, but you could even expand it beyond defence and you could think about your technological innovation. You could think about some industrial processes. Whatever that subject of interest might be, climate change is likely to have some impact and pose some challenges and opportunities for that area.

In the second study, which we're discussing today, we basically took that approach. We kind of applied that research framework, that kind of analytical conceptual framework, the tool, in practice. And we looked at what are the implications of climate change for defence logistics and specifically within the context of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and military aid to the civil authorities.

General Richard Nugee

Lucia has really clearly explained why this is of relevance to Defence. It was a really important study for which I am very grateful, which came right at the start of the work that I was doing, because what it did is highlight exactly the breadth of the issues that are relevant to Defence. And I think there had been some thinking in Defence before that this was all about estates, this was all about solar panels, this was all about trying to make sure that we use LED lighting. And I'm being a little bit superfluous, but not much.

What the report highlighted, the first report highlighted was this covers everything. This covers equipment, this covers our supply chain. It covers circular economy. It covers, yes, the estate, but it also covers our approach to deployments and it covers our approach to things like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And so it was an immensely useful report and highlighted also that it's not just about our emissions, which is where quite a lot of the thinking had been. It's about our resilience and about adapting to what we need to do as a force to remain effective in a climate change world.

So there's adaptation, there's mitigation, but there's also — and this sort of came out as a result of some of the work on the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief — it came out that what we should be doing is looking for leadership opportunities across the world to try and build a consensus across the world on what is the best way of approaching what is happening in the climate and the effects of the crises and humanitarian assistance that is required during that position.

And so what we've got here is the first report and the second report just reinforced a particular aspect of that which is really important, which is sort of logistics of humanitarian assistance. What you've got here is a really clear understanding that this is a global problem, that we as a Ministry of Defence must operate globally. We must work with our alliances, but also we should work with those who are not necessarily in formal alliance with us. And so there is opportunity here for greater collaboration with countries that we wouldn't necessarily collaborate with otherwise. That was what this report started to really highlight.

Catherine McShane

Thank you. Lucia, can you tell us what the main findings of the report were?

Lucia Retter

Sure. So there's probably a few findings that I'd like to highlight, one of which is kind of confirmation that is articulated in the report that there is very strong scientific evidence that shows that the risk of natural disasters is projected to increase as we see extreme weather events becoming more frequent and more severe. So basically showing that climate change effects are already observable now and are affecting the planet now, both the UK nationally, but also countries across the world.

Our study also found that due to the increase of extreme weather events now and in the future, it is also likely that the military will be asked to help and asked to provide assistance in disaster relief more frequently. We know that the military is not the sort of lead responder in emergencies. Often it is led by civil authorities, but it is a very effective early responder and it has at its disposal effective assets and logistics and supply, not least at high levels of readiness, which allow the military to be very effective as an early responder and be able to surge capacity at very short notice.

As the military is expected to have to respond to these crises and emergencies more frequently, it's likely to also face some strategic and operational and tactical challenges accompanying that sort of deployment in harsh climate environments which have been affected by climate change. And in our report, we highlight twelve such specific challenges, some of which have already been experienced by the UK military. I mean, the UK military has lots of experience in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, not least quite regularly deploying to the Caribbean, for example, to provide assistance during the hurricane season.

And I guess in terms of the different challenges, the ones that I would probably highlight as quite important and maybe coinciding also with what General Nugee was saying around the greater focus and need for collaboration, in our report this is precisely what we highlighted. That sort of need for greater collaboration and coordination with both allies and partners whom we already collaborate with, but also perhaps more unusual actors and countries that also are going to be affected by climate change, but maybe, perhaps are also opportunities for us to learn from.

And I guess aside from countries specifically, we also highlighted the need to collaborate across Whitehall. So across different government departments, with civil society, with NGOs, and perhaps also within the military to draw maybe on some reserve forces, and perhaps kind of think about creative ways to surge capacity, because if there is going to be an increased demand for responding to crisis response, there isn't always going to be a commensurate increased supply of resources within the military, whether it is the equipment or whether it is the personnel. And therefore, there will probably be a need for fairly innovative ways to kind of match the resources that are available to the demands that our report articulates are foreseen to increase in terms of responding to crises around the world.

I guess on the sort of operational and tactical level, we found that the sort of changes that are precipitated by climate change, such as rising sea levels or hotter temperatures, could really undermine the ability to deliver logistics and supply to affected areas, particularly if we think about airports or seaports that have been flooded or destroyed. Delivering logistics to such places would really be quite a challenge, as is already being seen in crisis response up to date.

And I guess on a kind of technical level, there is definitely going to be some challenges around deploying equipment that may not necessarily be designed to be deployed into harsh climate environments and may actually need to be adapted to then be able to deploy effectively in crisis response around the globe. Some of the other challenges included, for example, food shortages or water contamination, which may require the UK military to bring more of the supplies, not just for the people through the sort of humanitarian assistance, but also for themselves, again, kind of perhaps increasing the burden on the logistics and the supply chains supporting it.

Catherine McShane

Thank you, Lucia. I think you might have, in some of what you were saying there, when you're talking about collaboration and that sounds like these are sort of recommendations that were coming out of the report. Do you have anything further to add to that, that sort of recommendations were in the report, and then perhaps General Nugee you could respond and tell us how these recommendations are useful to the government's climate strategy.

Lucia Retter

Sure. Within the report, we identified both a very long list of what we call sort of policy options, which are fairly broad and perhaps have different actors who might be relevant in terms of implementing them. But we then also highlighted five specific recommendations, one of which very much relates to your point, Cat, about the increased need for collaboration.

And what we recommended here was for the Ministry of Defence to strengthen the role of liaison officers and the network of liaison officers, particularly in relation to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, to better share the knowledge and increase the effectiveness of collaboration. I mean, such a network of liaison officers already exists within the context of military aid to civil authorities and is quite well established. And perhaps a similar model could be thought about and considered in relation to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Again, it goes back to that point that if these operations are going to become more frequent, perhaps it makes sense to learn more from practice and kind of share that experience across the different actors who are often involved.

And I guess supporting that, we also recommended that the Ministry of Defence considers drafting a kind of template for delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. For example, starting by combining the existing doctrine publications, which are currently sort of scattered around different doctrines into a single HADR, so humanitarian assistance and disaster relief doctrine, which would kind of consolidate this information and plans already in one place.

Two more maybe recommendations to highlight. One is around recommending to draft and design a sort of roadmap for enhancing resilience of Ministry of Defence infrastructure. And particularly here we were thinking about the sort of logistics infrastructure. So some of the airports and seaports and places where logistics assets are stored and deployed from, really understanding how they might need to become more resilient to some of the impacts of climate change, as well as how they might become more sustainable such that through that Defence is starting to also tackle climate change at its roots.

And finally, what I'd highlight is the recommendation to include content around climate change in training courses and education for both junior and senior staff, which seem to us to be really important, not least because we were collaborating with a university, University of Exeter, but also because that sort of education piece is really crucial to embed the climate change and sustainability mindset within Defence. And I'm sure that General Nugee has more to say on this. But certainly that sort of training element seemed very important to us and for us to highlight in the report.

General Richard Nugee

So to pick up on that, yes, absolutely. That is what we are intending to do. And interestingly, the Defence Green Network is running a couple of sessions with IEMA who are helping us with the education side of this and how we embed it in the whole of the MOD, and understanding of what climate change means.

I've used the report as a way of triggering thoughts and trying to expand from that across the whole of Defence, not just the sort of logistic supply chain. We've talked briefly about adaptation, about mitigation, but this piece about global leadership and can we provide the global leadership that will coordinate across other peoples. And here we went out, for example, to the defence attachés and asked them what other countries are doing in terms of humanitarian assistance disaster relief thinking, but in terms of their reaction to climate change.

And what was an interesting outcome of that was a number of the defence attachés coming back to us and saying it has opened up a new opportunity for discussion and a new, if you like, avenue to be able to talk to their host nations about a subject that they haven't on the whole considered, somehow obviously, but that which offered us opportunity to really lead the conversation, to discuss particular issue, and so try and build a global coordination on things like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Interestingly, NATO has picked up on that very firmly.

But the other thing that has been picked up very firmly is this concept of, Lucia said, you know, the military will not be the lead responder and isn't the natural sort of first port of call for a disaster relief necessarily or humanitarian assistance necessarily. And it's part of a bigger movement, which, if you like, is called the 3D of climate security, which is defence, diplomacy and development, and trying to build a relationship between the development organisations, the diplomacy organisations — the Foreign Office in our case — and Defence to try and really understand the impact of climate on security and how to get at — through development — how to get at minimizing the risks from climate change in terms of a security perspective. And that has been a really powerful movement which is growing.

The Prime Minister used climate and security as his text, if you like, for the only time he'll speak as the president of the UN Security Council and the first time that we've spoken for quite a lot of years as the president of the UN Security Council. He used this concept of climate and security and therefore as a global commons to try and understand how to overcome the potential threats that climate change will offer.

There is, of course, a resilience piece to it as picked up in the report and the recommendations, and we've doubled our efforts to look at what we call CIRAM and what that is, is looking at the resilience of our bases, look to the resilience of our overseas bases, especially to climate change and to rising sea levels. And then the training and education piece we said we know we've got to do it. It's a question of how you get it into the syllabus in a way that has a material effect. If you're taught all the time, things sort of wash over you. So it's got to be very, very specific. It's got to be very targeted. It's got to be relevant to you. And that's something that we're trying to build throughout Defence.

Catherine McShane

Thank you. And then just a quick question to close for you both. We've got this research, this current research, but where do we go from here? Is there more research that needs to be undertaken or do we have the information and evidence that we need for effective planning now? Perhaps Lucia you could respond first.

Lucia Retter

Sure. I mean, I'm sure General Nugee has a lot of different ideas and perhaps he'll agree with me when I say that it seems to me we are sort of at the beginning of the journey, really kind of starting to pull together different research and analysis and understanding of different concepts and different strands to better devise a strategy and plan and then implement it really to contribute to tackling climate change.

So I guess much like we have done in the recent report, Crisis Response in a Changing Climate, we could do in any of the other areas of Defence. Any other area in Defence is going to be somehow affected by climate change. So doing any sort of deep dive, trying to understand what the implications of climate change are for a specific area, such as, for example, infrastructure or training or personnel or other areas within Defence, might also be helpful, particularly for those organisations involved.

I guess more broadly, there is to me, a piece around learning from good practice, whether it is from commercial industries or even other governments or other militaries in terms of how they are transitioning to green economies slowly and steadily, but where there are pockets of success that perhaps the UK might learn from, whether it is some sustainable deployed camps and initiatives that are undertaken in this area, for example, by the Netherlands, or whether it is by using technology and innovation, for example, autonomy or AI-enabled optimisation tools to try and reduce the environmental impacts of military operations and so on. There's probably a variety of different opportunities there.

General Richard Nugee

So I think we're at the start of a journey, but we're or at least we're near the start. But actually, we're not starting from a blank sheet of paper. And what has been the most exciting thing about being in this field and really raising the profile of it through the report and through the government response is that actually it's brought out of the woodwork a whole load of ideas and thinking from throughout Defence that has been going on quietly in the background but that people haven't realised. So, for example, tomorrow I'm opening a building that will give back more than it takes in terms of carbon. It's a net negative building, which is outstanding. Well, that would have been thought about quite a while ago.

But I think there's a couple of things which I think are really important about where do we go from here. We've got COP26 on the horizon, climate and security and the greening of Defence and the resilience that Defence needs and the adaptation of Defence in order to be able to accommodate a climate changed world is all what we are proposing. It's not yet clear that it has been accepted to put into COP26. And why COP26? Because it brings every nation in the world to brook, if you like, and the attention of every nation in the world to be able to understand climate change in a way that affects defence. So I would love every ministry of defence across the world to sign a declaration that we're proposing, which talks about greening defence and keeping this at the top of their agenda.

But it's not just that sort of one-off of COP26, it's building NATO. And NATO has been really forward thinking on this in the last, it's really come out of its shell, if you like, in the last year or so. And I see this as entirely positive because all of UK forces are committed to NATO, the US is committed to NATO, and most European countries are committed to NATO. And therefore, actually what we see here is a vehicle for moving things forward together because one of the issues is interoperability. We have that at the moment in NATO and we need to maintain that. That means it has to be more than just a single country. It has to be an alliance approach to how we take things forward to make sure that we pay attention.

And going back to the second report, already there are discussions between France, between ourselves, and other NATO countries, to make sure that we're much more coordinated in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the future, both in terms of physical coordination on the ground, in terms of policy, in terms of equipment. We can do so much more together because this is a global problem rather than a single country problem.

And so actually the way ahead here is very exciting. We need to take advantage of commercial innovation. We need to build our own innovation where necessary. We need to take advantage of the green energy transition, what I call the green energy revolution, because I think it is genuinely a revolution. It's the first time in 120 years we've been able to produce our own energy supply by buying a few solar panels. We're not reliant on having, if you like, oil imported from either the North Sea or elsewhere. So there's real opportunity here for changing the way we do business.

And I think that the more that people understand how we can become more self-sufficient as a military, how we can become more aware of the damage we're doing in terms of the emissions, the more we will be able to contribute to solving part of the problem of climate change. We're only going to be a small part in the end, but contributing to the actual emission reduction, but also contributing to the thought processes to try and make the world a safer place. And it's interesting enough — finish on this point — it's interesting that to me, people talk about climate, stability, and peace. The three go intimately together because without tackling the risks that climate change create, which was so well highlighted by the report, you won't get stability and peace in the world. If you don't have that, you'll just exacerbate the climate change problems of the future.

Catherine McShane

Thank you. That was really interesting. Thank you, General Nugee, and thank you, Lucia, and thank you for listening to Expert Insights with RAND Europe. The study discussed today was Crisis Response in a Changing Climate, looking at the implications of climate change for UK defence logistics in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and military aid to the civil authorities and their operations. The study was commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence, and if you're interested in finding out more about this research, please visit our website at RAND Europe is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organisation that helps to improve policy and decision making through research and analysis.

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