In recent years, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have been escalating, posing significant challenges to various sectors worldwide. Among these, the defence and security industry stands prominently affected. Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a pressing reality that demands immediate and strategic responses from defence organisations. This article explores the multifaceted impact of extreme weather events on the defence and security sector, examining current challenges, strategic responses, and future directions.

The Growing Frequency of Extreme Weather Events

Extreme weather events, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and heatwaves, have seen a marked increase in both frequency and severity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2040 if current trends continue. This warming significantly contributes to the intensification of weather phenomena.

For the defence and security industry, this means more frequent deployments for disaster response, greater strain on resources, and increased operational complexity. The U.S. Department of Defence (DoD), for instance, has recognised climate change as a critical national security issue, noting that it can exacerbate existing threats and create new security challenges.

Impact on Military Operations and Infrastructure

Operational Challenges

Extreme weather events disrupt military operations in several ways. Floods can immobilise troops and equipment, wildfires can destroy training grounds and facilities, and hurricanes can delay or cancel critical missions. For example, in 2018, Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, leading to significant operational disruptions and financial losses estimated at $4.7 billion.

Infrastructure Vulnerability

Military installations are often located in areas susceptible to extreme weather events. Coastal bases, in particular, face threats from rising sea levels and increased storm intensity. The UK’s Royal Navy base in Portsmouth is one such example, where rising sea levels pose a potential risk to naval operations. Protecting these infrastructures requires substantial investments in resilience and adaptation measures.

Training and Readiness

Adverse weather conditions can hamper training schedules and readiness levels. In Australia, bushfires have led to the closure of training areas, affecting the preparedness of the Australian Defence Force. Ensuring that personnel are adequately trained under a variety of conditions becomes more challenging as extreme weather patterns become less predictable.

Strategic Responses and Adaptation

Enhancing Infrastructure Resilience

To counter the impacts of extreme weather, defence organisations are investing in resilient infrastructure. This includes elevating buildings, improving drainage systems, and constructing barriers to protect against flooding. The U.S. Navy has initiated the “Climate Readiness and Resiliency” programme, aiming to fortify installations against climate risks through infrastructure improvements and strategic planning.

Integrating Climate Change into Defence Planning

Recognising the need for a holistic approach, many defence organisations are integrating climate change into their strategic planning processes. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has established the Climate Change and Security Action Plan, which seeks to enhance the alliance’s understanding of climate impacts on security and develop appropriate adaptation strategies.

Leveraging Technology and Innovation

Technological advancements play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of extreme weather. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for disaster response, advanced weather forecasting systems, and resilient communication networks are some examples of how technology can aid defence operations. In the UK, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is researching innovative solutions to improve climate resilience in military operations.

Collaboration and International Cooperation

Climate change is a global challenge that necessitates international cooperation. Defence organisations worldwide are collaborating to share knowledge, resources, and best practices. The European Union’s Climate Change and Defence Roadmap, for instance, encourages member states to work together on climate resilience and adaptation initiatives.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR)

Increased Demand for HADR Missions

As extreme weather events become more frequent, the demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions has surged. Military forces are often among the first responders in disaster-stricken areas, providing critical support such as search and rescue operations, medical aid, and logistics. The Indian Armed Forces, for example, played a pivotal role in relief efforts following the 2018 Kerala floods, deploying personnel, helicopters, and ships to assist affected communities.

Challenges in HADR Operations

While military involvement in HADR missions is vital, it also presents challenges. Coordination with civilian agencies, managing logistics in hostile environments, and ensuring the safety of both responders and affected populations are complex tasks. The 2010 Haiti earthquake response highlighted these difficulties, as various international military forces and humanitarian organisations struggled to coordinate their efforts effectively.

Building Capacity for HADR

To enhance their HADR capabilities, defence organisations are investing in training and capacity building. Joint exercises with civilian agencies, developing rapid deployment units, and establishing pre-positioned disaster relief supplies are some strategies being employed. The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) has focused on strengthening regional cooperation for HADR, promoting joint exercises and information sharing among member states.

Climate-Induced Conflict and Security Risks

Resource Scarcity and Competition

Climate change exacerbates resource scarcity, leading to increased competition for water, food, and arable land. These pressures can heighten tensions and potentially lead to conflicts. The Lake Chad Basin, where the shrinking lake has intensified competition among communities and contributed to the rise of militant groups like Boko Haram, exemplifies this phenomenon.

Migration and Displacement

Extreme weather events and environmental degradation can force populations to migrate, creating security challenges both within and across borders. The displacement of large numbers of people can strain host communities, lead to social unrest, and increase the risk of conflict. The Syrian civil war is partly attributed to prolonged drought conditions that displaced rural populations and heightened social tensions.

Defence Sector’s Role in Mitigating Risks

Defence organisations are increasingly recognising their role in addressing climate-induced security risks. This involves not only preparing for potential conflicts but also engaging in preventive measures. The United Nations Security Council has acknowledged the link between climate change and global security, calling for integrated approaches to address these emerging threats.

Policy and Strategic Frameworks

National and International Policies

Governments are developing policies and frameworks to address the impact of climate change on national security. The US’ National Defence Strategy now includes climate change as a key consideration, emphasising the need to adapt to its impacts. Similarly, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has outlined a Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach, focusing on reducing carbon emissions and enhancing resilience.

Implementation Challenges

Despite the recognition of climate risks, implementing effective strategies remains challenging. Budget constraints, competing priorities, and the complexity of climate projections can hinder progress. Ensuring that climate considerations are embedded in all aspects of defence planning and operations is crucial for meaningful adaptation.

Future Directions

Looking ahead, the defence and security sector must continue to innovate and adapt to the evolving climate landscape. This includes fostering greater collaboration with scientific communities, investing in sustainable technologies, and prioritising climate resilience in strategic planning. As the climate crisis intensifies, the ability to anticipate and respond to its impacts will be critical for maintaining national and global security.


The intersection of extreme weather events and defence and security is a critical area that demands attention and action. As climate change continues to reshape our environment, the defence sector must evolve to meet these new challenges. By enhancing infrastructure resilience, integrating climate considerations into strategic planning, leveraging technology, and fostering international cooperation, the sector can better navigate the complexities of a changing world. The imperative is clear: a proactive and adaptive approach is essential to safeguard national security in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.