The Hidden Carbon Footprint of Global Military Operations

greenhouse gases emissions
Share this article


According to statistical estimates documented in a report on military and conflict emissions, the world’s military forces are accountable for 5.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases emissions. Military forces are major consumers of fossil fuels and have extensive and complicated supply networks. The estimate doesn’t include emissions related to actual warfare. The contribution of militaries overall on greenhouse gases emissions may be greatly increased if the emissions associated with actual warfighting are included in this assessment.

The war in Ukraine is worsening the global climate crisis at a time when greenhouse gas emissions are already at an all-time high Reuters reported. The burning of fossil fuels for the production, destruction, and use in combat as well as for post-conflict reconstruction and healthcare for war victims causes overall emissions.

publication from February this year highlights the devastating consequences of the conflict on Ukraine and Russia’s marine ecosystems. It sheds light on the destruction of critical habitats, pollution from oil spills, and the disruption of fisheries and shipping due to military activities and infrastructure development.

On both sides of the conflict, naval bases as well as industrial and port infrastructure near rivers, estuaries, and coasts have been targeted, resulting in pollution incidents that have been well-documented. There has also been an extensive amount of coverage in the worldwide media about the rates of dolphin and harbour porpoise strandings.

“We didn’t expect the emissions of war would be so significant and it’s not only the warfare itself that contributes to the emissions, but it’s also the future reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure,” Lennard de Klerk, a climate and carbon expert from Hungary explained to a reporter from Reuters.

Conflict either makes pre-existing environmental problems worse or creates new ones. In the case of pre-existing environmental challenges, conflict can exacerbate the situation by disrupting the implementation of environmental policies, hindering conservation efforts, and diverting resources and attention away from addressing existing problems. Furthermore, conflict often results in the displacement of communities, forcing them to rely on unsustainable practices for survival, further exacerbating environmental degradation.

Beyond greenhouse gases emissions, the impact of conflict/warfighting on the environment also includes destruction of ecosystems, polluted water sources, and generation of hazardous waste.  A good example is the conflict in Ukraine-Russian conflict, we can see the extent of the impact conflicts have on water resources and infrastructure by examining the Ukraine-Russia conflict, which is taking place in a region with a highly modified and industrialised water sector.

Usually, the emissions brought on by conflicts/war go unreported. This lack of reporting is due to the focus on other aspects of war, such as casualties and geopolitical implications. The emissions report that can be found on the UNFCCC website also draws attention to the fact that there is a data gap on military emissions and that the industry lacks transparency and accountability.

Despite heavy reliability on fossil fuels only a few states give the UNFCCC disaggregated information about the fuel consumption of their armed forces. This lack of transparency and accountability not only hinders the accurate assessment of military emissions but also undermines efforts to effectively address climate change. Without comprehensive data on military fuel consumption, it becomes challenging to develop targeted strategies and policies that can mitigate the industry’s impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.

UNHAS: Africa’s Air Aid Amid Conflict and Climate Concerns

Due to various factors, including power struggles, ethnic tensions, presence of extremist groups and competition for resources, many African regions have been plagued by persistent conflicts. These conflicts have resulted in widespread displacement of populations, with millions of people being forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Additionally, the ongoing conflicts have severely disrupted local economies and infrastructure, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation due to climate change in these regions.

Unfortunately, conflict is the norm in the DR Congo since the 1990s, the nation has experienced political repression and turmoil.since gaining independence. The Lake Chad region, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, South Sudan and Sudan are some of the countries enduring persistent conflicts. With increased insecurity in these regions and poor infrastructure, it becomes even more challenging to provide assistance to populations in need.

Humanitarian organisations are increasingly targeted by non-state armed groups, further exacerbating the difficulties in delivering aid. This not only puts the safety of humanitarian workers at risk but also hinders the ability to reach and help vulnerable communities.

Such challenges have called for air transport inorder to access the hard to reach locations and provide humanitarian aid. The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) has been critical in enabling the delivery of humanitarian aid to distant and crisis-affected regions in Africa.

UNHAS makes sure that humanitarian organisations can promptly and effectively reach individuals in need by offering secure and dependable air transportation, eventually saving lives and easing suffering. Wherever in the world when an emergency arises, UNHAS is the first line of defence,  playing a crucial role in disaster response and relief efforts.

Conflict-related aviation emissions are frequently overlooked. Aviation contributed 2% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions last year. And 53,100 flights were made in 2022–2023 to 540 destinations in response to humanitarian needs all throughout the world, according to the UNHAS Annual Review 2022.

These flights played a crucial role in delivering aid and support to communities affected by conflict and natural disasters. However, it is important to address the environmental impact of these operations and find sustainable solutions to reduce aviation emissions during such critical humanitarian operations.

East African Military

We observed three military personnel in the DRC last year, all of whom were from member nations in the Eastern Africa region. Between 6,500 and 12,000 soldiers had to be mobilised by the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to support peacekeeping operations in the nation by collaborating with the FARDC and administrative forces of the Republic of the Congo.Along with Kenya and Tanzania’s MONUSCO peacekeeping force, the bilateral forces also included Burundi and Uganda.

All Africa reported last July how to ensure that the objectives of restoring peace and stability are attained in DRC. the Vice-President of Tanzania Dr. Philip Mpango stated that Tanzania is committed to supporting and contributing to the Southern African Development Community Mission (SAMIDRC) whilst addressing the Heads of State and Government of the Tripartite Organisation for Cooperation in Politics, Security and Defence of the Southern African Development Community (SADC Organ Troika).

This exemplifies how the military sector in the Eastern Africa region contributes to carbon emissions and environmental degradation. The military industry must be involved in environmental and climate change policy decision-making processes. Like all other nations, East African states should look for green alternatives to military carbon-related operations.

Military emissions, mainly from Africa, are likely to rise as well, with annual global military spending hovering around $2 trillion and growing due to continued investment in military forces.

Thus, it is crucial to consider the full extent of military activities when assessing their impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.  As the continent increasingly prioritizes sustainable practices and renewable energy sources, several potential circular economy-related issues need to be addressed and a need to revise national policies and laws.

However, the vast greenhouse gases emissions must be acknowledged and addressed as a worldwide issue. Switching to renewable energy sources, encouraging sustainable supplier practices, and reducing emissions during operations should be the focus of any efforts to reduce the military’s carbon footprint. Investing in research and developing innovative technologies can help identify more efficient and eco-friendly solutions for the military sector.

Read more Climate change insights here.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Leave a comment
scroll to top