Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

Greenhouse gases and military activities

Comune Info 12.11.2022 Bruna Bianchi Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

An international report, despite data on emissions from military activities being fragmentary, incomplete or hidden in civil activities, shows that if the world's armed forces constituted one (obnoxious) nation, it would be the fourth largest in CO2 emissions. A comparison? The global emissions of passenger cars, rightly questioned everywhere (at least in theory), are lower. Maybe that's why in the Italian Government there is now also Confindustria’s president of military company.

The military are the privileged environmental vandals. Their daily activities are above civil law and are protected from public and governmental scrutiny, even in 'democracies' (Joni Seager, Patriarcal Vandalism. Militarism and Environment 1999, p. 163). On 10th November, at the virtual panel at COP 27, The Military Emission Gap. Annual Update 2022, appeared the report Estimating the Military’s Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Stuart Parkinson, director of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), and Linsey Cottrell, environmental policy manager of the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS). The report aims to reaffirm the need to include the global military sector - a major item of government spending and one that consumes a huge amount of fossil fuels - in the tally of sources of climate-changing gas pollution.

Since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the desire of governments to avoid possible restrictions on military activities has been behind the exemption granted to the armed forces of various countries from reporting their emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"The guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," the report states, "stipulate that countries must report the extent of emissions from military activities to the UNFCCC, but the 2015 Paris Agreement made these reports voluntary. The resulting problems have been largely overlooked by the climate science community, and the IPCC's latest report, the sixth, only mentions the military sector in passing,” which is therefore not part of the negotiations on emission reduction targets under the UNFCCC.

Data on emissions from military activities, although fragmentary, incomplete or included (hidden) within other categories of civil activities, such as aviation and shipping, can nevertheless provide a basis for estimating the carbon footprint of the global military sector.

A first indicator is military expenditure. According to Climate Watch 2022, in 2019, around 60 % of global emissions came from ten countries - China, the US, India, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Canada and Saudi Arabia - countries that, with the exception of Indonesia, also appeared in the top twenty with the highest military expenditures.

Another indicator is the size of the armed forces' personnel. From personnel statistics and other military or independent sources, Parkinson and Cottrell extrapolated data from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany to estimate the average CO2 emissions of stationary military activities per capita: United Kingdom (2017 to 2019), 5 tonnes; Germany (2018 to 2019), 5.1 tonnes; and the United States (2018), 12.9 tonnes. Although these figures refer to only three countries, together they account for 45 % of global military expenditure, 14 % of total emissions and 9 % of active military personnel.

Extrapolation from other sources, both military and independent, of data on mobile and procurement activities, allowed for an overall assessment of global military sector emissions at 1,600 - 3,500 million tonnes (average value: 2,750) representing 3.3 % - 7 % of global emissions (average value: 5.5 %).

I will not dwell on the criteria and calculation methods adopted to produce the estimates (for which I refer to pages 3 and 4 of the report), but only on the overall estimates of carbon footprints in millions of tonnes broken down by geopolitical regions.



Geopolitical regions

Estimates (higher values)

Estimates (lower values)

Asia and Oceania

1 766


Middle East and North Africa



North America



Russia and Eurasia






Latin America



Sub-Saharan Africa




3 484

1 644

% of total global emissions

   7,0 %



How can the size of emissions from military activities be assessed on the basis of these estimates?

These can be compared, for example, with passenger car emissions of 3,200 million CO2 in 2019, of which military emissions would account only for 85 per cent. Overall, if the world's armed forces constituted a nation, it would be the fourth largest in terms of CO2 emissions after China, the USA, and India and would have higher values than Russia's emissions.

These figures, alarming in themselves, are vastly underestimated. In fact, referring to a period before 2020, they do not include the changes that occurred with the COVID pandemic, nor those derived from the increases in military spending since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, nor the emissions caused by the impacts of wartime - explosions, fires and other damage to infrastructure and ecosystems -, nor those derived from post-conflict reconstruction activities, nor those related to the survivors’ care. Partial estimates for some of these activities have been made by Perspectives Climate Group. All these factors, if taken into account, would significantly raise the figures of 5.5 per cent.

To understand the true size of the global military's carbon footprint, the conclusions state, new ways of data collection and processing are needed. Useful tools for this are the criteria developed by CEOBS in its recent publication Framework for Military Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting aimed at armed forces, governments and civil society organisations.

The estimates put forward by SGR and CEOBS offer to those (scholars, scientists, pacifist and civil society organisations) who have been arguing for years for detailed and transparent information on the true extent of CO2 emissions from all military activities concrete data, solid arguments and precise indications on which to base research and activism.

However, CO2 emissions are not the only indicator of the impact of military activities on the climate. Extremely destructive activities are those related to geoengineering aimed at disrupting the climate to use it as a weapon of war, conceived and conducted in secrecy.

A commitment to the inclusion of CO2 emissions from military activities could be a first step not only towards their reduction, but more importantly towards breaking down the veil of silence, privilege and secrecy that shrouds military activity and its destructiveness, shields it from public accountability, and instils in military organisations a sense of higher purpose and invulnerability.

See, Gas serra e attività militari

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