The Link Between Climate Change and Security: The Important Role the Defense Sector Plays

June 26, 2024

As our world becomes increasingly connected by digital means, the impact that cybersecurity has on climate change initiatives becomes more defined. The online infrastructure supporting climate change mitigation and sustainability efforts is vulnerable to cyber threats, as malicious actors seek to exploit system vulnerabilities, disrupt supply and energy production, manipulate climate data, and sabotage global environmental agreements. In response, the defense sector is working to address the cybersecurity issues associated with climate change to define more robust strategies in safeguarding our nation.

The Cybersecurity Risks of Climate Change

Climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves significant changes in weather patterns and environmental temperatures over extended periods of time, primarily driven by an increase in greenhouse gases and consumption of natural resources. The resulting global warming and other risk factors have far-reaching and multifaceted consequences with noted negative impacts on society. From geopolitical issues, cybersecurity risks, and national security threats, the need to address climate change is of critical importance.

In his groundbreaking publication, former Chief of Defense of the Dutch Armed Forces Tom Middendorp explains the “profound connection between climate change and global security,” and its effect on society from both a national defense and cybersecurity perspective. There are serious cyber risks associated with climate change. As is seen with the recent heat wave, extreme weather associated with climate change can cause wildfires, droughts, damaged crops, food shortages, and even death within a population. It also provides an opportunity for hackers to exploit an already difficult situation. 

Across all 16 sectors of critical infrastructure, cybersecurity threats are a real and ever-present issue. In cases of extreme or severe weather, many negative outcomes can occur, including power outages, transportation delays, structural damage, public panic and chaos – and threat actors actively seek to exploit these conditions. They disseminate misinformation, cause delays in lifesaving medical procedures, spread computer viruses, and more while systems are experiencing issues associated with climate change. These systems become vulnerable and can be hacked, especially when personnel and the public are preoccupied with emergency situations.

As it relates to national security, climate change acts as a threat multiplier by exacerbating existing issues and political tensions. When in an environmental crisis, nations grapple with diminishing resources, social order destabilizes, and humanitarian aid is stretched thin. Climate change directly threatens military operations as well, as cyberattacks affect equipment installations, communication networks, and supply chain management. These disruptions not only compromise operational readiness, but also expose sensitive data across all systems to potential cyber threats.


The Defense Sector and Climate Change Awareness

The defense sector is comprised of over 200,000 companies and agencies, and each plays a big role in climate change awareness and the cybersecurity behind critical systems. By utilizing cybersecurity measures to protect renewable energy, weather monitoring, and data analytics, as well as recognizing the complex threats posed by climate change, for example, the U.S. Department of Defense is taking proactive measures to boost initiatives in this area of study. Strategic planning involves conducting thorough climate risk analyses to understand potential impacts on defense strategies and integrating climate considerations into all levels of planning. As described in the DoD Climate Risk Analysis report, the DoD’s role is in “supporting whole-of-government and international efforts in concert with allies and partners.” Furthermore, the DoD defines key terms and considerations for this plan. Through adaptation, climate change mitigation, and resilience, the DoD outlines their initiatives “to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.”

In 2023, the “Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced a partnership to allocate $374.9 million in grants to strengthen state and local cybersecurity initiatives” in recognition of the need for better online data protection. Investment in cybersecurity has surged lately, with companies budgeting millions towards dedicated departments, personnel, and policies to help mitigate financial, informational, and credibility losses.

Training employees in cybersecurity methods like cryptography, ethical hacking, and offensive cyber engineering is an essential part of the defense sector’s plan as well. FEMA and CISA released the first-ever Cyber Incidents Planning Guidance for Emergency Managers that “combines the cybersecurity expertise of CISA with the emergency management experience of FEMA to provide communities with the latest information and resources to prepare for, protect against, and respond to cyber incidents...helping emergency managers strengthen critical infrastructure and enhance the resilience of the communities they serve.”

Collaboration and partnerships both within and outside the defense sector are also vital, and frequent interagency cooperation and international engagement is needed to address global climate challenges. Policy and governance play a crucial role, with the development of policies that promote environmental initiatives for regular reporting and accountability on climate-related actions. Additionally, the defense sector not only contributes to mitigating the impacts of climate change but also ensures that the U.S. military remains prepared and adaptable to the evolving security landscape. Through these actions, the U.S. is aiming to put up its best defense against this existential threat.

Creating a Secure and Sustainable Future with Capitol Tech

Sustainability and cybersecurity require a global effort through education, research, and policy changes. Capitol Technology University offers programs such as our Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Master of Research (MRes) in Sustainability to provide students with the knowledge and skills to address the complex issues surrounding malicious actors, cybersecurity, climate change, and sustainability across all sectors. To learn more, contact our Admissions team or request more information today.