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This dissertation offers a prospective analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the anticipated security consequences of climate change. Using climate and security literature to complement recent foresight and scenario analysis developed by NATO, I apply the International Risk Governance Council's (IRGC) Risk Governance Framework to identify the considerations and actions that could assist NATO in a context where climate and environmental factors more intensively shape security.

Climate-driven environmental change is anticipated to influence some, if not all, of the factors that threaten security; undermining livelihoods, increasing migration, creating political instability or other forms of insecurity, and weakening the resilience and capabilities of states to respond appropriately. Climate change has the potential to increase the need for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, to create tension over shared resources, to renew and enhance geo-political interest in the Arctic, and to deepen concern with respect to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

While the implications of climate change are not yet fully known, it is widely feared that the environment of the twenty-first century will see greater instability and increased demand for organizations such as NATO. Within this new political and environmental reality, NATO must consider how to adapt to meet new demands, prepare for new security challenges, as well as manage unforeseen consequences. Unless NATO can develop options to augment standing procedures and grapple with climate security risk, future crises could be met with ad hoc responses.

Although NATO's standing policies and capabilities are impressive, a posture of 'no further action is needed' is not appropriate for a risk anticipated to pose unprecedented challenges. Eventually, NATO will need to enhance its policies. However, that it was difficult to identify precise actions related to climate change reflects NATO's ability to maintain a structure capable of addressing a vast range of security issues. Nevertheless, NATO lacks the means to perform some aspects of risk governance as required by the IRGC Risk Governance Framework, because the characteristics of the climate security risk problem (an insufficient evidentiary and methodological basis), as well as institutional constraints, encumber so doing.

Offering a corrective, this dissertation identifies near-term actions for NATO to improve its risk governance posture, providing a basis upon which longer-range policy considerations can be developed. In mapping the risk governance dimensions to the security and climate nexus from the perspective of NATO, this dissertation provides the foundation for risk-based policy planning for NATO. This analysis is, however, only the opening salvo of what is likely to be a complicated process that spans many years, if not decades.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Literature Review

  • Chapter Three

    Taking Stock of the Situation: NATO

  • Chapter Four

    Methodology & Context

  • Chapter Five

    A Risk Governance Case Study

  • Chapter Six

    Major Findings

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in October 2016 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Steven Popper (Chair), Ortwin Renn, and Chad Briggs.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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