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A new NATO centre on climate and security in Canada will not lead to climate justice

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Justin Trudeau landing in Brussels. Image credit: Justin Trudeau/Twitter.

Yesterday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau affirmed Canada's interest in hosting a NATO "centre of excellence" conference on climate and security.

It is not clear in what city this "centre of excellence" -- defined by NATO as an "international military organization" -- will be based, when it will open or how much it will cost.

"Security implications of climate change"

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office notes: "The [centre of excellence] would play an important role in helping the alliance to better understand, adapt to, and address the security implications of climate change."

Another statement from the PMO explains: "It would provide allies with a central location to pool their knowledge and develop effective preparedness and responses to the security impacts of climate change."

"Threat multiplier"

The UN Under-Secretary-General for political and peacebuilding affairs has commented: "Major armies and businesses have long recognized the need to prepare for climate-related risks, rightfully assessing climate change as a threat multiplier."

There is the concern that rather than committing to address climate change, the rationale will be that climate change requires more spending on the military.

The U.S. Department of Defense, the world's single largest consumer of oil and one of the world's top carbon polluters, has described climate change as an "urgent and growing threat to our national security." In 2020, the United States spent $778 billion on its military, an increase of 4.4 per cent over the previous year.

That also appears to be the Canadian military's perspective on the pandemic.

Last year, Department of National Defence deputy minister Jody Thomas stated: "In a post-COVID world, there is, I would say as the deputy minister of defence, a need for [the $553 billion 'Strong, Secure, Engaged' strategy paper] to in fact be done more quickly rather than slow it down or cut the budget."

Greening the military?

There is also the concern that this "centre of excellence" could be spun as a commitment to somehow greening the NATO military alliance.

The Institute for Policy Studies has commented both on the immense challenges of making "the U.S. war machines more fuel efficient," but also highlights that would "do nothing to make the U.S. military any less violent or oppressive."

"Making peace with nature"

Those on the frontlines of the climate crisis are being killed. Four land and environmental defenders have been killed every week on average since the Paris climate agreement was reached at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.

Late last year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated: "Humanity is waging war on nature…Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere."

Front Line Defenders reports that 177 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia last year. Meanwhile, the NATO summit yesterday announced: "We are intensifying our interaction with Colombia, NATO's partner in Latin America, on good governance, military training, interoperability, demining, and maritime security."

A security strategy based on militarization can result in more human rights violations and attacks against climate defenders.

Military spending, fossil fuel subsidies

Massive amounts of money are poured annually into the drivers of climate change. G7 countries (all of which are NATO members except Japan) provide at least $87.7 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies and spent $1.04 trillion on their militaries last year.

Until this spending is drastically reduced or eliminated, the prospects for climate justice are bleak. Thus, it is an urgent task for an intersectional movement committed to peace and climate justice (and by extension Indigenous rights and racial, economic and migrant justice) to call for the defunding of militarism and extractivism.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. You can find them on Twitter at @PBIcanada.

Image credit: Justin Trudeau/Twitter.

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