Royal Navy: Climate Change Training - Question

– in the House of Lords am 11:23 am ar 14 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Ceidwadwyr 11:23, 14 Mawrth 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce training for the Royal Navy on climate change.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the defence command plan refresh highlighted that defence is already being impacted by climate change and that we must face the reality of operating in a harsher climate and adapt accordingly, enhancing both our capabilities and our operational advantage. As part of the ongoing work to ensure that defence is resilient to the impact of climate change, we have introduced an awareness course on climate change and defence resilience for the Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence personnel. Currently there are no plans for that training to become mandatory.

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Ceidwadwyr

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Will any training include the scientific record of how the climate has changed substantially without either human interference or causing human extinction? For example, during the Younger Dryas, about 12,000 years ago, the temperature fell dramatically and then rose again by as much as 10 degrees centigrade over a period of 50 years, while during the Middle Ages the temperature of the earth was higher than it is today. Abandoning attempts to prevent climate change would save the West from bankruptcy and release a large amount of money for defence and would even enable us to buy some frigates, which would please the noble Lord, Lord West.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the question of climate change and defence resilience is increasingly at the heart of what we are doing. The UK’s ability to understand the impact of climate change across defence and to adapt to it will be key to gaining strategic advantage.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur

My Lords, I shall ask the Minister a question that is within his brief. The respected Institute for Economics and Peace has identified 27 countries with over 700 million people who already face catastrophic ecological threats but at the same time have the lowest levels of societal resilience. This is a recipe for conflict. The list includes countries where we are likely to deploy our Armed Forces and other humanitarian and emergency responders if requested so to do. The Minister and I have had cause to discuss the complications and consequences of the manifestation of an unanticipated risk that caused the accidental death of a member of our armed services deployed with our allies in a foreign jurisdiction in a post-conflict environment. With that in mind, since we have identified the countries where we will need them, should we not be working on appropriate and comprehensive status of forces agreements now in anticipation of this situation arising again?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. However, I make two points. First, we will not and cannot compromise military capability solely for a sustainable solution. A key principle here is to safeguard the national defence, and that is paramount. Secondly, having said that, the UK is world-leading in this area, and we should be proud of our Armed Forces’ efforts to gain an edge on the threats and challenges posed by climate change. Each service is making significant improvements.

Photo of Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Non-affiliated

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests as an honorary captain in the Royal Navy. While education is very important, even more important is capacity. HMS “Protector” is currently our only icebreaker. Last week it returned from Operation Austral in the Antarctic, where it was delivering supplies, carrying out hydrographic surveys and improving the safety of naval passage. I urge the Minister to build on that capacity and, as we train the Royal Navy, to draw on the experience that HMS “Protector” and the teams have gained over the last few years.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that extremely valid point. She is right that we need to learn from our experience. The Navy in particular is building in adaptability to all future platforms to ensure flexibility of fuel sources and all energy-efficient technologies wherever possible.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, following on from the noble Baroness’s question, Lieutenant General Richard Nugee warned that global warming may affect the Royal Navy’s technical capabilities. He warned that rising sea temperatures might make it difficult for ships to cool their engines as they rely on cold seawater. It would be helpful if the Minister could provide an update on what assessment has been made by the Ministry of Defence of the impact that rising sea temperatures have had or could have on the technical efficacy of Royal Navy ships.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Again, that is an extremely valid point. The MoD has just held its first climate security wargame across government, with international representation, and it was the MoD that led it. It is now assessing the outcomes and the lessons learned. Things such as rising sea temperatures and land temperatures are exactly the sort of area that was being considered. This and future wargames will inform all operational planning and current and future military capabilities to ensure that defence understands how capabilities will perform and operate in these changing environments; that is, both physical and security environments.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

My Lords, climate change and its future impact will not only impede our ability to project force but will be a key driver of conflicts. Responding to climate breakdown disasters will become a regular reason for deployment. Does the Minister agree that arguing that the Royal Navy should not be prepared for climate change, as some have, is the modern equivalent of asking the Navy to work on the assumption that the earth is flat?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

That was a very nice allegory; I entirely agree. It is embedded in everything that all services, not just the Royal Navy, undertake. This is to ensure that what is inevitable—the climate change we are facing within the next relatively short period of time—is completely planned and catered for. As I said, that will give us a strategic advantage.

Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench

My Lords, I think we can all agree that the main purpose of the Question is to express our concerns about the health of our planet. However, I will extend that to say that I am concerned about the health—as the noble Lord, Lord West, will be pleased to know—of the Royal Navy. Will the Minister comment on His Majesty’s Government’s view of the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s statement yesterday that the economy should be put on a war footing, not just to grow the economy, but to grow the size of the defence budget from 2.5% to 3% in the interests of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I am increasingly thinking this is rather like Groundhog Day. I entirely agree, but the words “war footing” are slightly alarmist. There is no doubt that we are in a considerably more unstable environment and that we need to invest in industrial capacity to rebuild our stockpiles and re-equip all our forces. As I said the other day, we have 22 ships and submarines on order. We have 1,200 armoured vehicles currently on order. The RAF has its greatest lift capacity since the Second World War. The new Chinooks announced yesterday by the Secretary of State are extremely good news.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, grounded in the reality of 2024 and the climate emergency, Britain faces greatly increased risks and the reality of floods, droughts, fires, and heat affecting public health. The independent Climate Change Committee said yesterday that the third national adaptation programme was wholly inadequate. Given that there will be increasing demands for military aid for civilian authorities—known as MACA—what extra training and provision are happening within the Navy? With areas such as floods, the Navy should have the capacity to help.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, there are training programmes in all three forces, and the whole question of climate change and the changing environment we will have to face is deeply embedded in that. However, I confirm that we will not compromise on military capabilities solely for some form of sustainable solution. Our job in the Ministry of Defence is to ensure and safeguard the national defence.