When people talk of climate change being a risk to national security, they are often referring to the millions of climate refugees who will be looking for new homes to settle in once their existing countries or communities become uninhabitable. If you’re interested in the human cost of climate change in the form of refugees, you should check out these films (especially #7).
But there’s another type of security risk which is escalating due to climate change. And it’s one that you’re not likely to see in a documentary anytime soon. But if you look close enough, perhaps in winter somewhere in northern Norway, it’s possible you’ll come across a few hundred Royal Marines who are going through cold-weather training in response to the growing threat of climate change. And the star of this show is BAE’s BvS10 armoured snow vehicle, otherwise known as “The Viking“.
The reason that this new form of climate combat training exists is quite simple. As the Arctic Circle warms and the ice recedes, new shipping routes are becoming navigable and sought-after resources such as gas and minerals are becoming exposed. As a result, the Arctic is attracting a new interest from governments with a stake in the region.
“Shipping lanes are opening up and ships are able to operate for longer periods during the year – but in response to that, you’re seeing an increased militarisation“. Gavin Williamson, Former UK Secretary of State for Defence
The main perceived threat is Russia. As one of the largest Arctic states, Russia has a lot to gain from the increased accessibility caused by climate change. In August 2017, for the first time, a Russian tanker travelled from Norway to South Korea across the Northern Sea without a separate icebreaker escort – a journey that took almost a third less time than the usual route via the Suez Canal.
There are concerns, however, that the Kremlin may have its sights set beyond its current borders. Under international law, the five countries surrounding the Arctic Ocean have a claim over waters up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline, with the North Pole and surrounding ocean considered international seas. But in 2007, in an underwater land grab, Russian mini-submarines planted a titanium Russian flag four kilometres below the ice on the Lomonosov ridge, signalling Moscow’s attempt to claim this oil- and gas-rich stretch of the seabed. Russia has also had historical disputes over the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
The UK is not an Arctic state, but has an interest in ensuring free passage for international trade and in supporting its NATO allies. In April, Williamson unveiled the UK’s new Defence Arctic Strategy, which includes a 10-year commitment to training Royal Marines alongside Norwegian troops, and the deployment of new submarine-hunting P-8 aircraft to Norway from 2020.
The full story about climate change combat appears in the July / August 2019 issue of Wired Magazine.