British Army military

MPs warn that UK military capabilities could be eroded without climate adaptation

Image credit: Crown Copyright

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) needs to adapt its operational capabilities and equipment for climate change amid a warming world or risk eroding the UK’s military capabilities, MPs have said.

In a new report, the Defence Committee said the Armed Forces would need to improve its ability to adapt to operate across increasingly demanding climatic conditions.

For example, military vehicles usually designed for temperatures up to 45°C have had to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan at well over 50°C. Warships, which have traditionally used the cooling effect of the seas to ensure engines operate effectively, are finding that the thermal blanketing effect of rising sea temperatures in the Persian Gulf is eroding the efficiency of existing naval engines.

According to the report, retrofitting existing ships to operate in disruptive ice would be expensive, and it is probably too late to fit strengthened bows to the yet-to-be-built Type 26 Batch 2 City-class frigates.

However, the design of the future Type 83 destroyers, which are planned replacements in the late 2030s for the existing Type 45s, is still at a very early stage and it would be possible to add that requirement.

The effect of extreme temperatures on personnel, whether on exercises or operationally deployed, will also be increasingly important to manage alongside other impacts.

A particular concern for military planners is the melting of the ice caps, the report said.

Scientists predict that in 15-20 years the Arctic will be open water in the summer, and countries have already begun exploring the area for critical minerals. By 2040, the world is expected to need four times as many of these for clean energy technologies as it does today.

The depletion of the Arctic land mass will also see it being used as a route for international trade, but Russia has declared its intent to treat the region as its own internal sea, potentially restricting access. There is also concern that the current ban on exploiting the resources of the Antarctic could be under threat, driving future competition and potential conflict.

As well as adapting the Armed Forces in response to climate change, Defence also needs to respond to the government’s efforts to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the report said.

“We find in this report that Defence can do much more to measure and reduce its carbon emissions – without eroding military capability,” the MPs stated.

Defence has access to around 1.8 per cent of the UK land mass across the defence estate – reducing emissions could be achieved in the short term by accelerating the fitting of existing low-carbon technologies such as solar, wind, heat pumps and improved building insulation.

The report urges the MoD to appoint a dedicated climate change director who would focus on coordinating carbon reductions across the whole of Defence, including holding separate commands and organisations to account for progress in reducing emissions.

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