Military and non-military activities keep emitting greenhouse gases and this impacts climate change. This is an issue which needs to be debated at an international level. It is crucial that the military reduce their emissions.
However, it is important to understand that military activities and climate change are connected in more than one way. Climate-driven events such as glacial melting, rising temperatures, crippling droughts, heat waves, wildfires, catastrophic storms, and dramatic shifts in rainfall patterns, all impact military operations. These events affect infrastructure, military readiness and strategy across the globe.
Extreme weather conditions can undermine the efficiency and robustness of military infrastructure. Rising temperatures can degrade the performance of an aircraft, and this may require alterations in the runway or the aircraft engine. Adverse weather also interferes with logistics. It can cause wear and tear of military equipment. This in turn obstructs military readiness. Even advanced military powers are facing these challenges. One example is that during the US war in Afghanistan, the arid environment often jammed US military weapons. Personnel and equipment at military bases struggled to keep cool. Additionally, the weather reportedly meddled with the NATO’s air transport operations. Similarly, flooding and rising temperatures are likely to challenge the effective operation of UK’s military installations in the coming years.
Climate Change and the Pakistan Army
Pakistan is also not an exception to this trend. According to an estimate, about 60 per cent of Pakistan receives less than 10 inches of rain per year. This is is causing a shortage and depletion of water supply. On the other hand, melting glaciers feed rivers and cause floods. In the absence of data and studies on the effect of climate change (for example, on soil composition and its impact on military base areas in Pakistan), it is difficult to assess this relationship. Scholarly studies, however, have observed that rising temperatures and low precipitation in Jacobabad resulted in an increase in soil pH and soil EC and a decrease in soil moisture. This deterioration of soil composition and other changes in climate can cause damage to military infrastructure and runways, compromise road integrity that affects military transport, and hence impinge military operations.
A consistent rise in global temperature is worrying for militaries across the world. The recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 2021 warns against rising temperatures. The report forecasts troubling times for South Asia: hot weather, increased droughts and longer monsoons.
Geography is another important factor. The effects of climate change are linked to the geography of a state and that in turn can affect its military activities. The World Bank’s predicted average temperature rise for South Asia is 4oC by 2100. Already, the high temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and lower temperatures in the Pacific created the ‘perfect conditions’ for Pakistan’s 2010 floods. Due to our geography, we will continue to face climate-driven catastrophes.
Several Pakistani cities are already experiencing higher temperatures. For example, this year Jacobabad hit 52o C. So far, Jacobabad and Ras al Khaimah in the UAE are the only cities on earth to have experienced temperatures that are too hot for the human body to withstand. This temperature rise is likely to affect military base operations in Jacobabad. The extreme weather conditions and their resultant deteriorating impact on military estates and their operating environments could bring about a relocation of military bases and a forced adaptation of military operations.
From Space to the Sea
Furthermore, rising sea levels can affect space launch facilities that are typically located close to shorelines. Changing wind patterns could affect the launch trajectories of satellites and missiles. Any changes in the upper atmospheric environment would require space operations to adapt. The change in climatic conditions will also affect drone missions in the future since those require stable communication and resilient GPS systems.
According to one Nature Communications journal study, the global average rise in sea-level is estimated at more than 3mm per year. As a result, the Asia-Pacific region is likely to face existential threat. In Pakistan too, the sea levels are rising at a significant rate. According to the Global Risk Report of 2019, the rise in the Arabian Sea has intruded up to 67 km into the coastline. This has turned agricultural land in Thatta and Badin saline. The mean sea level is reportedly rising gradually at the rate of 1.1 mm/year: about 1.4 mm/year at Pasni, 1-2 mm/year at Ormara, 1.1 mm/year at Karachi.
The development of Gwadar port has significantly increased Pakistan’s maritime interests and hence rising sea levels are troubling for our maritime operations. Rising sea levels call for strengthening existing efforts to make the costal line resilient. This also requires that Pakistan Navy should be vigilant about being climate resilient. The modernization of Pakistan Navy involves the development of naval fleet of more than 50 warships, hypersonic P282 ship-launched anti-ship/land-attack ballistic missile, frigates, Hangor-class subs, drone jammers, and unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
Climate change affects physical health and mental health. Climate-driven catastrophes can impede accessibility to training sites and consequently, the reduced military readiness could adversely affect the well-being of military personnel. Studies have shown that acute climate events including floods, heat wave and wildfires result in stress, mood disorder, sleep disorder, anxiety, grief and suicide. Soldiers operating in climate affected areas cannot escape from these mental health risks.
Climate Catastrophes and the Military
Apart from the direct impact on military infrastructure and operations, there are indirect strategic level effects of climate change. Climate-driven events cause water and food insecurity, increased energy demands and migration that increases the likelihood of conflict. This creates a rocky atmosphere for effective military operations and puts additional stress on military units if they are called for disaster management and post-conflict assistance.
In Pakistan, this dimension is precarious because of the recurrent and intense engagement of the military with disaster management. The army played a key role during 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods. Furthermore, degradation of civilian infrastructure, including water supply and electric grids compounds the impact of climate change. Hence, there is a need to assess the resilience of military estates’ infrastructure and military equipment in relation to future operating environments affected by climate change.
Pakistan is modernizing its military to meet its security needs, yet its vulnerability to climate change is also increasing. Due to its geography, Pakistan will continue to face climate-driven catastrophes therefore it is vital to build a climate resilient military, to adopt adaptive measures and practices in areas where military activities are vulnerable to climate change, and to engage with emerging technological solutions and international best practices for climate resilience.