Rising sea levels, droughts and falling food production could spark large population movements and conflict, while the melting of Arctic ice risked inflaming tensions in the region, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
“I think it is within the natural scope of work for NATO to be the forum for consultation and discussion on these issues,” he told reporters following a speech at a joint NATO and Lloyds conference in London.
The melting of the ice cap in particular was likely to cause tensions, as shipping begins in the previously frozen Northwest Passage and competition breaks out for resources that were formerly under ice, he said.
“The fact that new sea routes will be opened for navigating, the fact that we will get easier access to resources in the Arctic, might also increase the scope of competition in the region,” Rasmussen added.
“We known from experience that strengthened competition also increases the risks of tensions. And this is the reason why we have to do our utmost to reduce the risk of tensions and take action in due time.”
Five countries bordering the Arctic — Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States — claim overlapping parts of the region, which is estimated to hold 90 billion untapped barrels of oil.
Relations with Russia, which were badly strained after the Russia-Georgia war last year but have improved under the new administration of US President Barack Obama, would prove vital in the region, Rasmussen said.
“With the aim to reduce tensions… in the Arctic region, I think we need cooperation between NATO and Russia and between individual allies and Russia,” he said.
However, Rasmussen — who took over as secretary general in August — said politicians shouldered the bulk of the responsibility for climate-related security, in cutting emissions and preparing for natural disasters.
“Climate change may have potentially huge security implications, but the response cannot be exclusively military,” he said.