by Ambra Visentin 

The climate goals of the Paris Agreement are becoming increasingly unattainable due to a lack of academic research and NGO interest in one of the main drivers of the climate crisis – global military and armed conflicts around the world. This was noted by expert speakers at ‘Closing the Global Stocktake’s military and conflict emissions gap‘, one of the panels at the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2023 (5-15 June). This is the 58th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific Advice and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During these important weeks, work will be carried out on the basis of the mandates issued at COP 27 in Egypt in 2022, with the aim of preparing draft decisions to be taken at COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates in December 2023.

Estimates suggest that military greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for 5.5% of global emissions, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only increased this. Military and conflict emissions are overlooked by the UNFCCC and IPCC, and the Global Stocktake is an opportunity to begin to remedy this. The GST is a mechanism provided for in Article 14 of the Paris Agreement, which provides for a review every five years of the commitments made by the signatory nations to reduce emissions for which they are responsible.

Linsey Cottrell, Environmental Policy Officer at the Conflict and Environment Observatory, explained the importance of including the different areas of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the global military. The Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) set out to understand what data was being provided by different countries and what that data meant. In order to highlight the gaps, it created the website ‘The military emissions gap‘ in 2021. The data analysed showed that of the ‘Annex 1’ countries – the 36 countries identified in the UNFCCC for reduction – only 5 reported in line with their UNFCCC commitments. Russia, France, Japan, Turkey and Poland did not provide any useful data, despite having military expenditures of $200 billion. Other countries, including those with large military expenditures, such as China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran, Brazil, Israel and Qatar ($550 billion in 2021), also failed to provide useful data.

In addition, she points out that UNFCCC reporting currently only requires the provision of disaggregated data on military fuel use, which does not take into account all greenhouse gas emissions produced by the armed forces. There is little data on fuel consumption, and even less on energy use and supply chains. Even more seriously, there is no data on wartime activities, as countries are not required under the UNFCC to publish data on direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions related to overseas activities, wars and other side-effects.

Lennard de Klerk (Initiative on GHG Accounting of War) presented data on the environmental impact of the war in Ukraine, both on the territory itself and internationally: ‘We have a new emitter that is the equivalent of a heavy industrial country.’ In fact, the total emissions of this war are estimated at 119 million tonnes of CO2, almost as much as a country like Belgium emits in a 12-month period. The full study on the period of conflict in Ukraine will be presented at COP28.

Axel Michaelowa (Perspectives Climate Group and University of Zurich) pointed out that the location of COP28 is an example of the serious environmental impacts of conflict: ‘COP28 is being held in a region that has seen a lot of conflicts. In this region we had one of the highest cases of emissions from a military conflict, the oil fires in Kuwait, the invasion of Iraq, setting fire to the oil fields, burning about 400 million tonnes of CO2. We hope that the presidency of COP28 understands how important this is and gives it its rightful place in the Global Stocktake.’

Cover image by Irina Kozorog on Shutterstock