COP28: How Wars and Conflicts Impact the Climate

 COP28: How Wars and Conflicts Impact the Climate

In 2022, global military spending reached a record of $2.24 trillion, significantly exceeding the annual commitments of only $100 billion declared in the context of the climate conference.

Roberto Barbiero and Marzio Fait

Translation by Daniele Savietto

The echoes of conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine also reach the United Nations Climate Conference in Dubai, as well as in numerous scenarios of political instability that characterize the global context, especially in Africa and South America. Armed conflicts are strongly interconnected with the climate crisis, but it is a rather complex issue to analyze due to the difficulty in obtaining transparent data.

Indeed, a particular relationship can be identified between the phenomenon of climate change and the world of war. Gradual changes, such as rising temperatures and sea levels, and more intense extreme weather events, such as droughts and heatwaves, contribute to increasing situations of insecurity, causing hunger, disease, and migrations that disrupt the lives of entire communities. These conditions can amplify the vulnerability of the poorest layers of the world’s population and foster tensions, especially in regions already characterized by political, social, and economic instability. At the same time, the military sector is responsible for emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, devastating habitats and ecosystems, and spreading substances harmful to human health.

Numerous movements and civil society organizations are calling on states to take concrete actions to encourage disarmament and limit the environmental impact of the military on the planet, and there are several events scheduled at COP28 to address these issues.

To identify some of the key issues surrounding the topic, we are guided by the reflection of Tamara Lorincz, a member of the Canadian Pugwash Group, the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, at an event promoted by the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE).

Greenhouse gas emissions from the military system.

Emissions of greenhouse gases from the global military system, stemming from armed conflicts and military operations, are estimated to contribute to 5.5% of worldwide emissions. However, these emissions are not currently factored into the calculations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The military sector is not obligated to report its emissions, posing a significant challenge in assessing the environmental footprint of this industry.

According to the data analyzed for the 36 countries identified by the UNFCCC for emissions reduction, only 5 have provided information. Russia, France, Japan, Turkey, and Poland did not provide useful data, despite their military expenditures amounting to $200 billion. Strong deficiencies in information reporting were also identified in other countries with equally high military expenses, such as China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran, Brazil, Israel, and Qatar ($550 billion in 2021). Currently, UNFCCC reports only require the provision of disaggregated data on military fuel use, which does not account for all greenhouse gas emissions produced by the military.

There is limited data on fuel consumption, even less on energy use and supply chains. Even more serious is the lack of data on war activities, as countries are not required to publish data on direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions related to overseas activities, wars, and other side effects.

The Global Stocktake, the global assessment of progress under the Paris Agreement, which is discussed at COP28, represents an opportunity to begin including this crucial data.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending was approximately $2.24 trillion in 2022. This figure has been continuously increasing since 2015: compared to the results of 2021, it grew by 3.7%, but if we look at 2013, it increased by 19%. These $2.24 trillion correspond to 2.2% of the global GDP. “This is the equivalent expense to ensure ecological transition,” emphasized Tamara Lorincz in her speech.

The Message of Pope Francisco

Funds that could be used to address the climate crisis and promote the peaceful transformation of conflicts, disarmament, and global justice initiatives are instead being spent to prolong wars and armed conflicts that bring not only death and destruction but also environmental devastation and climate destruction. Pope Francis himself intervened on military spending with a message and a proposal to COP28 sent through the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin: “With the money used for weapons and other military expenses, we could create a global fund to finally eliminate hunger and carry out activities that promote the sustainable development of the poorest countries, combat climate change.”

Peace is Essential for Climate Action

The urgent need to find a solution to the climate crisis imposes on the world’s countries the path of cooperation and international solidarity with the most vulnerable countries and the most vulnerable components of the world’s population within the richest countries themselves. To ensure cooperation, the only path is peace among peoples. This involves ending ongoing wars, but also working to prevent the root causes of conflicts, such as social and economic inequalities, by intervening with the necessary economic support, respecting human rights, and restoring environmental conditions to ensure the ecosystem services underlying essential goods such as water, food, and health. The solution to the climate crisis is therefore indissolubly linked to the construction of peace, and it is desirable that this goal be included and be fundamental for future actions.

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