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French military enlists green group to fight climate change

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 8 December 2018 22:12 GMT

French soldiers prepare their armoured vehicles at the Relay Desert Platform Camp (PfDR) in Ansongo, Mali, October 15, 2017, during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane. Picture taken October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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The partnership will focus at first on West Africa's Sahel region, where France has maintained a large military presence

By Sebastien Malo

KATOWICE, Poland, Dec 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - France's military has teamed up with an environmental non-profit for the first time to study the threat of climate change where the country is at war, a representative of the green group said on Saturday.

So far, WWF France and the Ecole de Guerre, the top French military academy, have been jointly promoting their view that climate change is a national security threat.

The Ecole de Guerre trains officers to become the next generation of the armed forces' top brass.

The partnership marks the first time the French military has worked with a non-profit on adapting to climate change, said Nathaniel Powell, an expert on the French army in Africa at the Lausanne-based Pierre du Bois Foundation for Current History.

The venture seeks to study the ability of conflict areas to withstand the pressures of a changing climate as the planet warms, said Marine Braud, head of green diplomacy for WWF France, at a conference held alongside U.N. climate talks.

"We work together on the links between environment and security," she told a panel discussion.

The partnership, which kicked off in September, involves about 40 officers at the Ecole de Guerre, representing about a fifth of the school's students.

It will focus at first on West Africa's Sahel region, said Braud, where the alliance hopes to carry out its first "stress test" exercise next year.

The results will be released in a report, she said.

France has maintained a large military presence in the Sahel, one of the poorest parts of the world with a rapidly growing population that has been hit hard by climate change.

The French armed forces drove out a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels from northern Mali in 2013, and now deploy 4,500 troops in Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, according to the defence ministry.

WWF France's head, Pascal Canfin, referred to climate change as a "threat multiplier" while speaking to lawmakers at the French National Assembly last month about the group's partnership with the military.

"The French armed forces today are touching the reality of climate change where they operate," he said.

"They are increasingly anxious to integrate this dimension (of climate change) in their analysis," he said.

The initiative was part of a broader trend by military forces to adapt to climate change, said historian Powell.

The U.S. Department of Defense, which has the world's most powerful military, found in a study published earlier this year that nearly half of U.S. military sites globally are threatened by wild weather linked to climate change.

Given WWF's high profile, the move could potentially undermine the perceived neutrality of environmental organisations working in the conflict-torn Sahel, warned Powell.

"In the minds of armed groups, it might link climate change activism to foreign military operations," he said by phone.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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