India's National Security Strategy: The Importance of Integrating Climate Change

19 Nov, 2015    ·   4935

Cdr Kapil Narula explains why the impacts of climate change have a bearing on India's national security

Climate change is a pressing concern which requires urgent action. With less than a fortnight left for the start of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the spotlight is on Paris and French President Francois Hollande to forge a legally binding universal agreement. As government negotiators work behind the scenes to build support for their respective positions, there is widespread optimism that the leaders will reach an effective and comprehensive climate deal to limit global warming below 2 degree centigrade.

While India has called to base the deal on the principle of “climate justice,” it has declared an ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which it hopes will contribute to a fair and an equitable climate deal. Notwithstanding the above, India needs to integrate climate change in its national security strategy.

Does climate change impact national security?
Yes, it does. The path-breaking 2007 report, ‘National Security and the Threat of Climate Change’, penned by the Military Advisory Board (MAB) of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) based in Washington D.C. concluded that “climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world” and “projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world.” As this would affect the US national security, the report recommended that “the consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies.”

This conclusion proved to be correct and over the years it has been observed that recurring flooding, drought, temperature extremes, frequent and/or more severe extreme weather events, sea level rise and temperature changes, exuberates the threats to food, water and energy security which impact the society at micro and macro levels. These societal impacts interact to affect national security and it is therefore essential that these impacts are quantified for national security planning.

Apart from the impact on society, an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events directly impacts military assets and undermines military readiness. These findings were reaffirmed by the MAB in its May 2014 report, ‘National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change’, which also concluded that climate change affects the internal and external stability of a country and impinges on national security.

The US has been at the forefront of integrating climate change concerns in its national security and military strategy. In the July 2015 report, ‘National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate’, the Pentagon said climate change is an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” The report reinforced that global climate change would have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the foreseeable future as it would aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries. This is viewed as a security risk as it impacts human security as well as affects the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their citizens.

In response to this assessment, the US Department of Defense (DoD) directed the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) to integrate “climate-related impacts into their planning cycles.” This includes “monitoring, analysis, and integration of climate related risks into existing overall risk management measures, as appropriate for each combatant command.” The DoD also directed every US defence installation in the world to undertake a “global screening level vulnerability assessment” to chart the risk to military assets.

What is true for the US and other countries is true for India as well. While India has a well defined and independent National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), it lacks in analysing the impact of climate change on national security.

There is also no thought on integrating the responses to increased threats due to climate change in the existing military strategy. The US provides a good example of how military planning and operations can be viewed through the climate lens to enhance national security. It can be argued that the US operates in various parts of the world and provides security hegemony universally and is therefore impacted by the security implications of climate change across the globe. However, such an argument is equally valid for India at least in the regional context.

Integrating climate change in India’s national security strategy should therefore be a priority, considering that the risks from the impact of climate change are increasing both in terms of the probability of occurrence of extreme climate events and in terms of the quantum of loss of human, natural and economic capital from climate related disasters. Early action on the assessment of risk and vulnerability, building capacity and capability to enhance resilience and adaptation will lead to lowering the impact of climate change. It can therefore be concluded that fine-tuning the national security strategy to analyse, assess, and prepare for the uncertainties of climate change are likely to reap rich dividends for India and steps must be taken to act in this direction.

The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, Indian Navy or the Government of India. He can be reached at