According to a new estimate from the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) and Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), that’s how much militaries worldwide contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. That represents more emissions than Russia or Japan produces. If militaries around the world were counted as a single country, this would be the 4th highest emitting nation in the world.
Actually, these figures are underestimates. The 5.5% number doesn’t include emissions from conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, and other impacts of the military.
Militaries have historically been terrible at reporting their environmental impacts, let alone easing them. Countries including India and South Korea don’t do any reporting at all of military-linked emissions. They’re not legally obligated to, under a loophole enshrined in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and carried forward since then.
This means that to produce the new report, “Estimating the military’s global greenhouse gas emissions,” authors Linsey Cottrell of CEOBS and Stuart Parkinson of SGR had to cobble together best estimates to plug data gaps. This included extrapolating from the limited number of countries (the US and some European nations) that do report military emissions, based on numbers of active service personnel.
It’s far from a perfect solution to the lack of information. For instance, the authors have assumed that Latin American military emissions are on par with Europe, and that those from sub-Saharan Africa can be guesstimated at about half the European level.
The analysis uses pre-2020 data, and there have been seismic global changes since then. Emissions may rise as the trade in military goods does, and as some countries continue to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Ongoing supply chain issues mean that the US military, for one, can’t obtain all the hardware it wants.
With those caveats in mind, the authors found that about 60% of global military emissions came from only 10 countries, generally those with outsize military budgets: China, the US, India, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.
More generally, according to the report, this major contributor to climate change is being overlooked by scientists and governments alike.
Of course, the best thing for the planet would be to shrink militaries across the board – especially if the money saved goes to fund climate action, as some have proposed. But in the meantime more information is badly needed about how much militaries are contributing to climate insecurity, which is resulting in a more unstable world. The role of any military itself will need to transform in response.
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