One particularly significant area for development is the growing role of the MoD in climate-related issues. Historically, militaries have faced minimal political or legislative pressure to engage with climate and sustainability issues, providing the MoD with significant flexibility in applying environmental principles to operations, infrastructure, capabilities, and policies. Although binding legislative measures are unlikely to be applied across the full spectrum of defence activities in the near future, the traditional politico-military mindset of ‘environmental exceptionalism’ appears to be shifting. On 30 March 2021, the MoD took a significant step in working towards the Integrated Review’s climate ambitions by releasing the first NetZero strategy of any military force, within its Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach (CCSSA). This is a notable act, not simply because Defence is responsible for at least 50% of all UK government emissions and, thus, represents a major global polluter; but also because it faces significant risks in terms of stranded assets and operational threats resulting from climate change, as well as a raft of prospective climate-related financial, legal, and reputational risks and obligations.
The CCSSA outlines the relevance of climate change for defence, areas of existing progress, and bottlenecks for sustainability and adaptation. It also proposes a method for achieving NetZero and greater climate-resilience in three ‘epochs’, in which defence will seek to: create comprehensive sustainability baselines and enhanced sustainability collaboration with suppliers (2021-2025); reduce emissions and increase resilience through existing and emerging technologies (2026-2035); and, finally, invest in novel technologies for resilience and emissions reductions (2035-2050). There are, of course, any number of relevant and important concerns regarding this strategy, including its perceived reliance on prospective technological solutions and its non-binding nature. At the same time, the report has become a commonly referenced proof of concept for other militaries that are considering whether, how, and how far to implement government NetZero and sustainability goals. Together with Chief of Air Staff Mike Wigston’s bold (or, as some commentators have argued, wholly unfeasible) goal of achieving NetZero for the RAF by 2040, these actions have raised the MoD’s international visibility and status as a potential climate leader across the global security sector.
Alongside the release of the review, the MoD has been starting the uphill process of developing more coherent internal systems and procedures for enhancing mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. Importantly, there currently exists no official Defence Line of Development (DLOD) for climate and sustainability, limiting the degree to which military commands must consider such issues when making decisions on military capability. However, the MoD has created a dedicated Climate Change and Sustainability Directorate headed by James Clare, a civil servant with experience in the workings of MoD infrastructure and capability reform. Although still very much in its nascent stages, the directorate is already working to gain cross-governmental backing for key concepts and strategies (particularly in relation to ‘climate security’), and to help ensure that current sustainability ambition and intent within the MoD is supported by suitable methodologies and cross-departmental coordination. In their current form, such actions may not abate concerns amongst external and internal commentators regarding the degree to which the MoD can achieve significant gains at the pace and scale required. Once again, however, by creating a dedicated climate and sustainability directorate, the MoD has been able to deliver a proof of concept for various militaries, increasing the prospect that coordinated climate and sustainability initiatives could be used as a route for enhancing defence engagement and stabilisation activities worldwide.