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The environmental cost of war 

By Mahi Singh

Military activity has devastating impacts on the planet; global ceasefire is crucial for each other and for the environment. 

The environmental impact of military activity is huge. Extinction Rebellion reported that global military activities account for 5.5% of global emissions, while the aviation industry accounts for only around 2%. 

Fuel consumption makes up a large portion of these emissions – 80% being in the USA. This is used to power weapons and equipment such as tanks and fighter planes. Moreover, the actual transportation of these vehicles also requires fuel. The manufacturing and delivery of military equipment, supply chains, and setting up military bases, often by clearing forests, also contribute to this worrying number. 

But who is responsible? Ten countries are responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions, including China, the U.S, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia – the same top five countries with the highest military spending in 2022. A report from Brown University found that the US military alone produced more greenhouse gases than some entire countries including Morocco, Peru, Hungary, and New Zealand. 

War has physically devastating impacts on the environment. Russia’s expansion of its military buildup in the Barents Sea is destroying ecosystems through water pollution, toxic waste, nitrogen and sulphur deposits, and weapons testing. Together, these threaten ecosystems and populations of animals. Similarly, the civil war in Yemen has led to water scarcity through targeted bombings, the deterioration of arable land through explosive mines, and floods from accumulated waste. Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip have left harmful chemicals in the air which may remain for decades, and will have a devastating impact on agriculture. 

Yet, global defence forces are often excluded from reporting their emissions in the Paris Accords. This can be traced back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol negotiations, which excluded military activities from reports on greenhouse gases. Today, this has manifested in a political instrument for states to avoid their obligations, allowing them to engage in extensive attacks and military operations without having to account for their ecological footprint.

At the recent COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, there was no discussion of the impact of war and increased military action on the environment. It goes without saying that many attendees would not want to publicly acknowledge and admit their contribution to the environmental cost of their conflicts. States bypass their greenhouse gas emissions from military activity, and instead divert public attention to other aspects of climate change. 

We see harrowing images of the devastation of communities from conflict and violence almost every day. The humanitarian cost of war alone is enough to call a ceasefire in any warzone. When also examining the environmental destruction from war and military activities even in peaceful places, there is no question that the world’s priorities must change.


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