Sustainability in Naval Forces

In recent years‭, ‬sustainability has emerged as a pivotal concept‭, ‬embodying the balance between meeting present needs while safeguarding the capacity of future generations to fulfil their own‭. ‬It has become a cornerstone in the pursuit of equilibrium across the social‭, ‬economic‭, ‬and environmental facets of development initiatives and strategies‭.‬

For naval forces‭, ‬sustainability refers to the ability to sustain and endure over the long term by providing an optimal balance‭ ‬between the effectiveness and efficiency of the naval operations‭, ‬preserving resources‭, ‬improving energy efficiency‭, ‬reducing environmental impact‭, ‬and protecting marine environments simultaneously‭.‬

This necessitates naval units to operate sustainably by embracing principles‭, ‬procedures‭, ‬and technologies aimed at preserving oceans‭, ‬mitigating the adverse impacts of maritime activities‭, ‬and bolstering maritime security alongside naval capabilities‭. ‬Sustainability is paramount in naval forces‭, ‬primarily due to the demanding maritime working conditions and their profound impact on the marine environment‭. ‬In recent years‭, ‬there has been a notable shift towards prioritising sustainability techniques within‭ ‬naval operations‭, ‬marking a significant area for research and development in the military sector‭. ‬Implementing these sustainability techniques upholds the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem while simultaneously reducing the adverse effects of military activities on the sea and its inhabitants‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬sustainability in naval forces transcends a mere operational necessity‭; ‬it is a strategic imperative aimed at safeguarding critical marine resources and averting their depletion‭. ‬This necessitates the adoption of sustainable practices within this pivotal sector‭, ‬not only to mitigate environmental impacts but also to attain economic and social sustainability in the long run‭.‬

Importance of Sustainability in Naval Forces‭:‬

The importance of sustainability in naval forces cannot be overstated‭, ‬especially in light of the growing global concern over climate change and the imperative to reduce carbon emissions while safeguarding precious resources‭.  ‬Thus‭, ‬examining and assessing‭ ‬sustainability practices within naval operations is crucial to evaluating their impact on the marine environment and the benefits they bring‭. ‬This endeavour aims to refine the maritime strategies of armed forces‭, ‬mitigating their adverse environmental effects and striving towards environmental‭, ‬economic‭, ‬and social sustainability in military activities‭.‬

To achieve these objectives‭, ‬the following steps must be taken‭:‬

•‭ ‬Achieving a comprehensive understanding of how naval activities impact the environment

•‭ ‬Identifying and implementing sustainable maritime technologies to minimise negative repercussions

•‭ ‬Achieving efficient waste management

•‭ ‬Harnessing renewable energy sources

•‭ ‬Enhancing fuel consumption efficiency

•‭ ‬Preserving biodiversity and marine resources

•‭ ‬Regulating sustainable fishing practices‭, ‬and safeguarding critical marine‭  ‬like coral reefs

•‭ ‬Reducing both environmental and economic costs within the naval sector

•‭ ‬Raising awareness among naval personnel about the importance of sustainability and promoting environmentally responsible behaviour

•‭ ‬Collaborating with local communities to align efforts and achieve mutually sustainable goals‭, ‬thereby preserving the integrity‭ ‬of this vital sector

While the commercial maritime sector strides forward in adopting alternative fuels and cutting-edge technologies to enhance efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint‭, ‬naval forces have been slower to embrace such innovations‭. ‬This discrepancy can be attributed‭, ‬in part‭, ‬to unique security and defence considerations inherent to naval operations‭. ‬These include ensuring a secure and‭ ‬uninterrupted fuel supply chain across global operations‭, ‬maintaining interoperability with allied naval forces‭, ‬ensuring survivability in combat scenarios‭, ‬accommodating diverse ship types‭, ‬and fulfilling various operational roles‭. ‬

Sustainability Requirements in Naval Forces‭:‬

Sustainability in naval forces encompasses a multifaceted approach that involves balancing operational requirements with environmental responsibility‭. ‬This entails adopting innovative strategies and collaborating with other sectors to address various aspects‭, ‬including‭:‬

1‭. ‬Carbon Removal from Defence Emissions‭:‬‭ ‬Military activities contribute 50%‭ ‬of government carbon emissions‭, ‬posing risks such as asset vulnerability and resource conflicts‭. ‬While achieving complete net-zero defence emissions by 2050‭, ‬presents challenges‭, ‬it’s feasible with strategies like carbon‭ ‬removal‭, ‬emission reduction‭, ‬and adopting low-carbon technologies such as sustainable aviation fuels and electric vehicles‭.‬

2‭. ‬Operational Sustainability‭:‬‭ ‬Operational sustainability in the military context refers to maintaining necessary levels of activity to achieve objectives while preserving resources and environmental integrity‭. ‬These technologies enhance the environmental‭, ‬economic and social sustainability of naval forces and contribute to preserving the sea‭, ‬marine resources‭, ‬and providing security and environmental stability‭ ‬for the future‭.‬

3‭. ‬Military Advancement towards Sustainability‭:‬‭ ‬Military effectiveness can be improved by conserving natural resources like water‭, ‬land‭, ‬and fuel‭, ‬benefiting the environment and operational performance‭. ‬Initiatives include educating personnel on energy efficiency‭, ‬optimizing operations‭, ‬and fostering innovation in sustainable technologies‭.‬

4‭. ‬Policies and Military Force Sustainability‭:‬‭ ‬Developing holistic policies encompassing financial‭, ‬social‭, ‬and economic perspectives is essential to address crises‭, ‬prevent‭ ‬conflicts‭, ‬and foster peace while maintaining military readiness‭. ‬This approach aims to build sustainable communities while ensuring security preparedness‭.‬

5‭. ‬Energy and Sustainability Programs in Armies‭:‬‭ ‬Energy and sustainability programs align with military priorities of readiness‭, ‬modernization‭, ‬and partnership-building‭. ‬These‭ ‬programs focus on enhancing energy efficiency‭, ‬reducing environmental impact‭, ‬and promoting sustainable practices throughout military operations‭.‬

Sustainability in the US Navy‭:‬

The US Navy and Marine Corps have unveiled their Climate Action 2030‭ ‬strategy‭, ‬in line with the state’s commitment to achieving‭ ‬net zero emissions by 2050‭. ‬

This strategy outlines efforts within both branches of the US military to identify initiatives towards this goal while maintaining their capabilities for combat and victory worldwide‭. ‬

US Secretary of the Navy‭, ‬Carlos Del Toro‭, ‬underscored the significance of climate change as a destabilizing force‭, ‬emphasizing‭ ‬its impact on national security readiness‭, ‬stating‭: ‬“Climate change is one of the most destabilizing forces of our time‭, ‬exacerbating other national security concerns and posing serious challenges to preparedness‭. ‬Our maritime and amphibious forces are in the crosshairs of the climate crisis and this strategy provides a framework to enable us to significantly reduce the threat of climate change”‭.‬

Transboundary threats intensified by climate change necessitate adaptation within naval and marine forces to meet evolving operational demands‭, ‬address humanitarian missions‭, ‬enhance regional stability‭, ‬and safeguard defence facilities and institutions‭. ‬

For her part‭, ‬Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy‭, ‬Installations‭, ‬and Environment‭, ‬Meredith Berger‭, ‬highlighted the imperative for the Navy to build resilience and reduce threats amidst climate change‭, ‬stating‭: ‬“Climate change increases risks‭, ‬exposing vulnerabilities to our citizens‭, ‬facilities‭, ‬platforms‭, ‬operations‭, ‬allies‭, ‬and partners‭. ‬To remain dominant in the world‭, ‬the Navy must adapt to climate change‭: ‬building resilience and reducing threats‭.”‬

The Climate Action 2030‭ ‬strategy for the Navy is based on decades of climate action across the Navy and Marine Corps‭, ‬positioning the Navy on track to achieve national and global goals for climate change mitigation‭, ‬with goals including reducing emissions‭,‬‭ ‬decreasing energy demand while increasing carbon-free electricity at naval facilities‭, ‬and equipping naval forces with appropriate training‭, ‬plans‭, ‬and equipment to operate in a more volatile climate‭. ‬

Moreover‭, ‬the Navy is committed to capturing an additional five million metric tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent of pollution annually by 2027‭. ‬It will also deploy secure mini-grids or similar technology for carbon-free energy use in naval bases and‭ ‬facilities to support critical missions‭.‬

Building on this strategy‭, ‬the US Navy has been at the forefront of climate change for years‭, ‬managing assets worth tens of billions of dollars on every continent and in every ocean‭.‬

The Navy’s infrastructure requirements are defined by the tasks required of it‭. ‬This requires understanding the types of tasks that the Navy may need to undertake in the coming years and the assets and infrastructure it will need to execute these tasks‭.‬

The US Navy has a clear vision of the challenges posed by climate change‭, ‬and its leaders recognise that the effects of global warming will broaden the geographic scope of its mission and increase demand for its military and humanitarian services‭. ‬Climate‭ ‬change will also reduce its ability to provide those services‭, ‬with an increased risk of damage to its bases and ports‭.‬

Research suggests that responding to climate change requires two approaches‭: ‬mitigation and adaptation‭. ‬Mitigation refers to actions that reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change and includes key examples such as replacing technologies with more energy-efficient ones and transitioning to renewable fuels‭. ‬Moreover‭, ‬mitigation efforts may require significant investments by the Navy‭, ‬companies‭, ‬or organizations‭, ‬but the benefits of reducing the potential economic and social damages‭ ‬associated with climate change are significant in the long run‭. ‬

Adaptation refers to measures that make the organization or naval force more resilient in facing continuous and expected changes‭ ‬in Earth systems‭. ‬Common examples of this include shifting water-intensive operations from increasingly drought-prone areas‭, ‬engineering buildings and sites in ways that enable them to avoid‭, ‬withstand‭, ‬or recover from floods and extreme weather events‭, ‬adapting to natural disasters‭, ‬particularly those resulting from advancing climate change‭, ‬such as engaging in wars and managing‭ ‬border conflicts and dealing with refugees‭.‬

Sustainability in the Royal Navy‭:‬

The Royal Navy has long recognised the importance of cultural development in combating climate change‭, ‬evident by its efforts to‭ ‬embed sustainability in all naval components‭, ‬reduce emissions in its operations‭, ‬and transition to a future fleet characterized by net zero carbon emissions‭.‬

While the Navy faces its own challenges‭, ‬it is not alone‭. ‬In modern militaries‭, ‬there is increasing recognition that climate change will alter global security and work environments‭, ‬additionally‭, ‬there is more expectation that armed forces will play a role‭ ‬in mitigating its impact‭.‬

In a similar timeframe to the establishment of the Pentagon’s‭ “‬Climate Change Working Group‭”, ‬the UK Ministry of Defence published the document‭ “‬Climate Change and the Strategic Approach to Sustainability‭” ‬on March 30‭, ‬2021‭, ‬outlining the British Army’s response to climate change challenges until 2050‭. ‬

Lieutenant Richard Nugee wrote in the report’s introduction‭, “‬The escalation of modern global threats due to rising sea levels‭, ‬harsh weather‭, ‬and creeping desertification will undoubtedly lead to further conflict‭, ‬requiring coordinated efforts in light of‭ ‬the government’s legal commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050‭.”‬

Moreover‭, ‬in April 2021‭, ‬the UK became the first major economy to enshrine in law its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions‭ ‬to net zero by 2050‭. ‬With the Ministry of Defence contributing approximately two million tons or 0.5%‭ ‬of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK‭.‬

Like the British Army‭, ‬the Royal Navy is preparing to operate in a climate-affected world‭, ‬where rising sea levels due to melting ice caps and new transit routes create new security risks‭. ‬Admiral Sir Tony Radakin‭, ‬Chief of the Defence Staff‭, ‬described climate change as‭ “‬a challenge we need to play our part in addressing through greener ships‭, ‬more energy-efficient buildings‭, ‬as well as better facilities‭.” ‬

Clearly‭, ‬urgent action must be taken to assess naval platforms and operations and understand where and how to achieve better optimisation ensuring broader net zero goals in the UK‭. ‬

To this end‭, ‬the UK Ministry of Defence recently published its strategic approach to sustainability and climate change‭, ‬identifying three stages to ensure its ability to achieve the 2050‭ ‬goals‭.‬

These stages include addressing already planned projects‭, ‬reducing emissions using current and emerging technologies while building resilience in supply chains and real estate‭, ‬and harnessing new technologies to build resilience and reduce emissions‭.‬

However‭, ‬this approach was unclear on how this carbon reduction would be enacted in the practical exercise of the Royal Navy’s legacy and new ships‭, ‬a problem encountered by many of the world’s leading naval forces‭, ‬if not all‭. ‬

On the other hand‭, ‬most people accept that the goal of naval forces may not be to achieve net zero‭, ‬but rather reduce emissions‭ ‬as much as possible‭. ‬Encouragingly‭, ‬the Navy has adopted a pragmatic approach‭, ‬establishing several departments and administrations addressing climate to mitigate its environmental impact and embark on a campaign towards carbon removal‭. ‬

While climate change encompasses everything‭, ‬the key issues facing the Navy can be catagorised as follows‭: ‬Fleet operations and‭ ‬making the fleet and naval bases more eco-friendly‭.‬

Speaking at the Net Zero Warship Engineering and Technology Conference in the UK in 2022‭, ‬Vice Admiral Paul Bennett‭, ‬Chief of Naval Staff‭, ‬said‭, “‬Net Zero is a space we must be more ambitious in‭. ‬Fortunately‭, ‬the Navy seems in an advantageous position internationally with plans that may provide an opportunity to influence global allies as they transition to greener fleets‭.” ‬

This conference marks an important event to showcase progress in sustainability areas in the Navy‭. ‬In 2020‭, ‬under pressure from‭ ‬International Maritime Organization regulations‭, ‬the Navy had already been forced to change fuel types and transition to ultra-low sulfur fuel oil‭, ‬resulting in a 77%‭ ‬global reduction in sulfur oxide emissions‭, ‬or nearly 8.5‭ ‬million metric tons annually‭.‬

»‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Retired Colonel Eng‭. ‬Khaled Al-Ananzah‭ ‬
‭(‬Advisor and Trainer in Environmental and Occupational Safety‭)‬

Al Jundi

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