Defence, security and climate change: How far has the European Union come?

  • Études

By Annica Waleij


Annica Waleij is a Senior Analyst at the Swedish Defence Research Agency. Her research focuses on Strategic Environmental Security Foresight, Environmental issues in military operations, and Environmental Emergencies.


General background: In June 2023, a High-level Joint Defence and Energy meeting of the Consultation Forum for Sustainable Energy in the Defence and Security Sector (CF SEDSS) [1] took place. The meeting, the second of its kind, was hosted by the Swedish Ministry of Defence and held in Stockholm under the auspices of the Swedish Presidency to the EU. Among other things, a comprehensive report on resilience of defence energy critical infrastructure was presented at the meeting, offering valuable insights into how EU defence, energy and climate change are interlinked. The results of the meeting reemphasized the commitment of EU Defence Ministries to strive for energy efficiency, energy conservation, energy and climate security, climate neutrality, climate adaptation and climate mitigation.


The nexus between a changing climate, scarce natural resources, and energy and security challenges have been identified by the EU for quite some time [2].  Most recently through a European Commission Joint Communication on the Climate-Security Nexus, that provides a comprehensive outlook on the threats that climate change and environmental degradation constitute on peace, security and defence [3].

It responds to the March 2023 Council conclusions on Climate and Energy Diplomacy, calling for better integration of the climate, peace and security nexus in EU’s external action.


European Commission Joint Communication on the Climate-Security Nexus


The Joint Communication sets out four main priorities:

  • Strengthening planning, decision-making and implementation,
  • Operationalising the response to climate and security challenges in EU external action.
  • Enhancing climate adaptation and mitigation measures of Member States’ civilian and military operations and infrastructure, while ensuring operational effectiveness;
  • Reinforcing international bilateral and multilateral partnerships with partners such as NATO, UN and AU, in line with EU’s climate change and environment agenda.

To deliver on these priorities, the EU will implement around 30 actions, where several are energy-related, such as gathering data on defence energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of the Member States and increasing international cooperation.


The European Green Deal


EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 has become an essential part of the EU’s green growth strategy, that is, the European Green Deal. A core pillar in the Joint Communication is that the energy transition must be in line with the external dimension of the European Green Deal and the Strategic Compass on Security and Defence [4].

Furthermore, the green energy transition must be socially just and fair, as it is the only way to ensure sustainable, secure, and affordable energy worldwide. In practice, this entails not only phasing out fossil fuels and outdated energy practices but also phasing in green energy, innovative technology, more equitable markets and circular economical thinking. As the challenges are global, EU commits to further and closer cooperation with its international partners and stakeholders to promote multilateral solutions for climate and energy security issues.


The challenges with overarching issues


As with other multinational organisations however, such as NATO and UN peacekeeping, these kinds of overarching issues takes some time to be broken down and operationalised for defence. In 2012, driven by similar work within NATO and UN, and inspired by those works, the first environmental and energy concept for EU military operations was published [5]. In this version, not much was mentioned about the climate and security nexus [6].

The more explicit impact of climate change on EU’s security and military operations was however raised at a higher strategic level in 2019, and after an EU’s Defence minister meeting, climate issues were included in the discussions [7], as well as in a dialogue within the European Council [9]. A thought paper was then produced by the European External Action Service (EEAS)[8], which formed the basis of a Climate and Defence Roadmap [10].


Climate and Defence Roadmap


The Climate and Defence Roadmap states that the defence sector has to contribute to the fulfilling of the European green deal’s goals. It identifies measures in the short term (2020-2021), medium term (2022-2024) while measures in the longer term (2025 and beyond) remain to be identified. The roadmap consists of three interlinked dimensions;

  • Operational Dimension, which includes situation description, capability for early warning and integration of climate change and environmental aspects in planning and carried out by GSFP operations.
  • Capability Development, focuses on new challenges including energy efficiency and that defence materials can cope with extreme weather conditions.
  • Strengthening Multilateralism and Partnerships. The EU strives for increased cooperation and use of synergies with partners outside the Union, incl. NATO and the UN.

The roadmap was adopted in 2020 as part of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to stimulate the defence sector’s work towards Europe’s climate goals. A first joint EEAS, Commission services and EDA progress report on the implementation of the Climate Change and Defence Roadmap and the Concept for an Integrated Approach on Climate Change and Security was published in the fall of 2022 [11], [12].


Energy and climate work within the European Defence Agency


The climate work within EDA, was initially mainly focused on sustainable energy supply. A wider scope is provided through the EDA CapTech (Capability Technology Area) for energy and environment (Energy & Environment CapTech)[13].

In 2016, its predecessor, EnE WG (Energy and Environment Working Group) began collecting national defence-related energy data with the aim of gaining a better overview of the armed forces’ energy use. A majority of the member states contributed with data [14]. Improving the collection and analysis of energy data is also included as a concrete task in Climate Change and Defence Roadmap. Not only does increased energy efficiency reduce the carbon footprint, it also reduces the logistical burden and reduces costs [15].

To strengthen informed planning, decision-making and implementation, enhanced evidence-based analysis and foresight is needed. EDA is therefore funding work towards establishing a structured methodology for collecting and monitoring defence-related energy data, i.e. the Defence Energy Suite (DEneS).

The total energy consumption of EU Member States’ armed forces equals that of a smaller EU Member State. In addition to being very energy intensive, EU Member States’ armed forces are also the largest public owner of free land and infrastructure in the EU. Together with the Commission, EDA, therefore, is conducting studies and research into the resilience of defence critical energy infrastructure (CEI). The aforementioned CF SEDS-sponsored JRC/EDA report assesses the impact of climate change on defence-related CEI, identifies gaps and proposes options to strengthen resilience to climate change, and; suggests ways forward to climate-proof European defence [16].

Last, but not least, an Incubation Forum for Circular Economy in European Defense (IF CEED) has been established, which is also expected to contribute to the Green Deal. This initiative is an effort to fast-forward the effort of a circular economy in practice, something that is sorely needed.


Bottom line


Altogether, this sends a signal that the EU sees the transformation of the defence as a critical part of reaching the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 as well as reducing the climate footprint of European military missions and operations, without affecting operational effectiveness.



[1] CF SEDSS deals with opportunities for cross-border collaboration around energy projects

[2]  Council of the European Union, General Secretariat of the Council, European Security Strategy – A secure Europe in a better world, Publications Office, 2009,

[3] European Commission (2023) Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council. A new outlook on the climate and security nexus: Addressing the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on peace, security and defence. Brussles 28.6.2023. JOIN(2023)19 final.

[4] A Strategic Compass for Security and Defence for a European Union that protects its citizens, values and interests and contributes to international peace and security.

[5] EU Concept for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency for EU led Military Operations. EEAS (2012) EEAS 01574/12, 14 September 2012.

[6] In 2021, an update of the 2012 environmental and energy concept for EU’s military operations was launched. The EU commitment to climate neutrality by 2050 is included as a component, as are measures for energy efficiency. The concept rests on three legs, the human dimension (human factor), organizational measures and technologies. EU Concept for Environmental Protection and Energy Optimisation for EU led Military Operations and Missions. EEAS(2021) 363 REV3,28 May 2021

[7] Council Conclusions on Security and Defence in the context of the EU Global Strategy (2019). General Secretariat of the Council. Luxembourg, 17 June 2019

[8] Council Conclusions on Security and Defence (2020) General Secretariat of the Council. Brussels, 17 June 2020, pkt 8

[9] Reflection Paper – Climate and Defence – Contributing to the Climate and Security Nexus including in the context of CSDP (ST 15270/19, dated 19 December 2019). EEAS(2019) 1353

[10] Climate Change and Defence Roadmap (2020) European External Action Service (EEAS) Brussels, 9 November 2020, EEAS(2020) 1251

[11] The joint progress report on Defence, on Climate Change and Security 2020-2022 (Doc. WK 15770/2022 INIT, 16 November 2022).

[12] Concept for Integrated Approach on Climate Change and Security (Doc. 12537/21, 5 October 2021).

[13] IDE at EDA’s Energy & Environment CapTech Meeting,

[14] EDA (2019) Defence Energy Data 2016 & 2017,

[15] Forthcoming EDA data show efficiency gains of approximately 33% over the period 2016-2020

[16] European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Tavares da Costa, R., Krausmann, E., Hadjisavvas, C., Impacts of climate change on defence-related critical energy infrastructure, Publications Office of the European Union, 2023


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