Globally, the military sector is estimated to generate around 6% of all CO2 emissions – Economy and Ecology

War is synonymous with death and destruction, especially for the environment and the climate. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine offers a depressing reminder of this fact and further increases the already enormous global carbon footprint of the military sector. Moreover, the towns in eastern Ukraine where the fighting is taking place are home to fossil fuel infrastructure such as chemical plants, oil refineries and coal mines, the bombardment of which produces a cocktail of toxic substances to devastating effects on the environment. Moreover, efforts to arm both sides consume materials and resources that could otherwise be used to fight the climate crisis.

Based on global C02budget, humanity has less than eight years to ensure it still meets its 1.5 degree warming goal. To do this, we must urgently implement reforms in all areas, to bring about “systemic change”, because the IPCC report from the beginning of April puts it. However, the military sector is barely mentioned in this nearly 3,000-page document, with the word “military” appearing only six times. You could therefore conclude that the sector is irrelevant in the face of the climate emergency.

The reality is quite different. The use of military equipment results in huge amounts of emissions. During the war in Ukraine, 36 Russian attacks on fossil fuel infrastructure were checked in in the first five weeks alone, resulting in prolonged fires that released soot particles, methane and C02 into the atmosphere, while oil infrastructure burned on the Russian side too. The oil fields that were burned down in 1991 during the second Gulf War contributed two percent of global emissions for that year.

While greenhouse gas emissions are one of the most significant impacts of warfare, the amount emitted depends on the duration of the conflict and the tanks, trucks and planes used. Another is the contamination of ecosystems that sequester CO2. Staff of the Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine are currently collecting water and soil samples in areas around bombed industrial facilities.

Military broadcasts

The ramifications for the climate can be catastrophic in scale. According to a study by the organization Drain International, the war in Iraq was responsible for 141 million tons of C02equivalent emissions between its launch in 2003 and the publication of the report in 2008. comparison: some 21 EU Member States emitted less CO2equivalent in 2019, with only six states exceeding that figure.

Globally, the military sector is estimated to generate around 6% of all CO2emissions.

Post-war reconstruction also produces significant emissions. Estimates suggest that reconstruction in Syria will result in 22 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Reconstruction in Ukraine will also consume large amounts of resources. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that at least US$5 billion in reconstruction funding was needed per month. Every effort must therefore be made to achieve an immediate ceasefire – both for the climate and to avoid further human suffering.

Emissions from armed forces and military equipment cause considerable environmental damage worldwide. And yet, under pressure from the United States, military CO2 emissions have been excluded climate treaties such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. As such, they are not part of their binding agreements and are neither systematically tracked nor transparently published. The resulting lack of data means that we can only make vague estimates as to the impact of the military sector on global warming.

According to a study by Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of war project to brown universitythe The US Department of Defense alone is a bigger contributor to the climate crisis than certain countries such as Sweden or Portugal. This makes it the largest institutional source of greenhouse gases in the world. Globally, the military sector is estimated to generate around 6% of all CO2emissions.

Germany’s role

With its new €100 billion fund for the military, Germany seems willing to accept other far-reaching climate impacts. This military investment will tie up financial and intellectual resources, making it highly unlikely that the 1.5 degree goal can be achieved. That countries wish to better protect themselves against possible Russian aggression is understandable. But the public debate around this issue must strike a balance between an uncertain increase in security and a reduction in our ability to fight climate change.

German army was already responsible for around 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2019, far more than the 2.5 million tonnes contributed by civil aviation in Germany. This is now set to increase. Just one of F-35 aircraft ordered from Lockheed Martin emits approximately 28 tons of CO2 equivalent per tank of fuel. For comparison: the average annual emissions footprint in Germany is 11.2 tonnes per head.

Revenues from the sale of fossil fuels provide continued funding for Russia’s war of aggression. From February 24 to April 24, 2022, the country’s fossil fuel exports via shipping routes and pipelines were worth an estimated €58 billion. The EU accounts for 70% of this total, or 39 billion euros, while Germany is the largest importer of Russian fossil fuels to 8.3 billion euros. Our reliance on fossil fuels is therefore a factor in both the climate crisis and the invasion of Ukraine.

And yet the representatives of politics and business use the war as an excuse to delay the necessary socio-ecological transformation. As companies still stuck in the age of fossil fuels – such as BP, Shell and Saudi-Aramco – show record profitsthe climate crisis continues.

More weapons mean more climate damage, not more security.

The likes of Rheinmetall and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg can argue for climate-neutral warfare using green tanks and hydrogen, but that’s surely not the answer. Western militaries, security experts and arms manufacturers are well aware of the importance of climate change, as evidenced by the numerous security strategies, policy statements and sustainability reports published on the subject in recent years. These describe ways to adapt to a changing climate while ensuring that doctrines of growth and hegemony are nonetheless defended against resistance.

cease fire now

Together with the EU and NATO, Germany is preparing for scenarios such as war, environmental catastrophe and the influx of refugees to ensure that its foreign policy will always be fit for purpose and that its security interests will be protected. A cynical approach given that those most affected – those from whom some say Germany must be protected – will be those who have contributed the least to global warming. And that seems even more absurd when you consider that the environmental destruction caused by military investments and resource conflicts will contribute to further warming the climate.

At the same time, steps are being taken to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Nevertheless, a Greenpeace report released last year demonstrates that the majority of all EU military missions have links to the protection of oil and gas imports. This dangerous relationship between fossil fuels, military missions and war must end.

More weapons mean more climate damage, not more security. The increase in the defense budgets of the NATO states will simply convince Russia and China to in turn increase their military investments. At $2.1 trillion, global arms spending has already reached registration levels.

As the war in Ukraine continues, the greatest challenge of the 21st century – the climate crisis – has slipped onto the agenda. We must not forget, however, that efforts to deal with this crisis can only succeed if all countries – including Russia – work together. The immediate demand is a ceasefire, followed by confidence-building measures, such as international disarmament treaties. Moreover, Russia will need outside help if it is to transition to a climate-friendly energy industry. What is needed is a fundamental socio-ecological transformation, with policies dictated by the needs of all. This may seem inconceivable at present, but what is the alternative? Uncontrolled global warming would be catastrophic for the entire population of the planet.

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