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Military forces must come clean on their carbon emissions, say scientists

Scientists are calling for greater transparency around carbon emissions from armed forces. 

Militaries are, for many countries, the government agency with the greatest emissions, with previous studies showing that the largest militaries emit more than many countries combined. For example, if the United States military were a country, its emissions would rank between Peru and Portugal.

Despite their huge environmental impact, the true extent of military greenhouse gas emissions is hidden from view. Some countries include their military emissions with civilian emissions or provide incomplete data. Other countries justify non-declaration by citing national security concerns.

Researchers from Lancaster and Durham University are working on the ‘Concrete Impacts’ project and are demanding governments to: 

  • End secrecy around the greenhouse gases produced by militaries
  • Openly report military greenhouse gas emissions by COP27
  • Commit their militaries to reduce emissions to keep global warming below the 1.5C target agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In a new step to highlight the scale of the military emissions gap, the Conflict and Environment Observatory has launched a new website to bring the data together into one place. 

low angle photography of brown and gray helicopter

Research has shown that most military greenhouse gas emissions are derived from the embedded emissions in the supply chains of all the weapons and equipment purchased by militaries. In 2019, sales by the largest 25 arms-producing companies reached an estimated US $361bn.

Each sale has its individual carbon cost, from the extraction of raw materials, through to production by arms companies, the use by militaries, decommissioning and end-of-life disposal.

Dr Ben Neimark, a Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University, said: ‘Allowing militaries to continue with business as usual makes it much less likely that the world will meet its Paris target of keeping warming below 1.5°C.’

Linsey Cottrell of the Conflict and Environment Observatory added: ‘Forty industrialised countries spent around $1,270 billion on their armed forces in 2020, yet just five of them reported their military emissions in line with UN guidelines.

‘We also found that a further 15 countries, including China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Brazil, Iran, Singapore and Pakistan, which together spent around $510 billion on their militaries in 2020, do not report any disaggregated data on military emissions.’

The project partners say they do not want military-grade greenwash, they are calling for credible and meaningful action to improve the reporting of military emissions to help identify how they can be reduced. This includes:

  • Developed industrialised countries to undertake mandatory and independently verified reporting of the greenhouse gas emissions of their militaries, making the information transparent, accessible and distinct from emissions from other parts of the economy;
  • Developing countries should begin annual voluntary reporting of their military’s emissions;
  • All governments to set clear targets for militaries to conserve energy, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally responsible renewable energy, making genuine cuts to emissions and not relying on offsets.

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