Military carbon emissions are among the highest in the world and account for up to five per cent of global emissions.
Military carbon emissions of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases contribute to military carbon footprints including equipment used in exercises, patrols and fighting wars, along with management of military bases and supplies such as food and fuel.
Environmental science reports estimate that the world’s combined militaries and their supporting industries produce more global emissions than civilian aviation and shipping combined.
According to the US Department of Energy, since 2001 the US military has produced more than 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases. Britain’s Ministry of Defence says the UK military’s total annual carbon footprint is three million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). But according to research by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) this figure rises to 11 million tonnes when UK and overseas supply chains, other core MOD activities and the UK arms industry are included.
“This the equivalent of six million cars not being counted or being included in a different category and does not include military carbon emissions from direct impacts of war such as oil depot fires and deforestation, healthcare of casualties, or post conflict construct,” said Dr Stuart Parkinson, executive director of research group the Conflict and Environment Observatory.
Defence accounts for 50 per cent of the UK central government’s emissions yet reporting of military carbon emissions was not included in the 2015 Paris Agreement, leaving it to the discretion of individual nations.
Responding to a parliamentary question about military carbon emissions and asking what steps the UK Ministry of Defence is taking to meet the government’s 2050 net zero targets, the Secretary of State for Defence said, “The MOD is committed to supporting the Government’s commitment to Net Zero Green House Gas Emissions by 2050. Over the last 10 years we have already reduced emissions across our UK estate by fifty per cent.
“We acknowledge we need to go further and have launched the Defence Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach, which sets out the ambition, principles and the methods needed for UK Defence to meet the challenge of climate change, enhance our sustainably activities and lower our emissions.
“The MOD is prioritising energy efficiency and decarbonisation initiatives to lower our carbon footprint across our estate. A natural capital register and modelling tools are being developed for the Defence estate which includes an assessment of the available carbon sequestration opportunities.”
Currently, 46 countries and the European Union must submit yearly reports on their national emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) but many countries do not fully report the impact of their military carbon emissions.
In one positive move regarding military carbon emissions, NATO recently announced that it would set concrete targets for the organisation “to contribute to the goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050.”
The impact of military carbon emissions was not on the formal agenda of COP26 last year but campaigners are pressing for the issue to be included at COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, due to be staged in Egypt in November 2022.