MILITARY SPENDING: A HIDDEN DRIVER OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The global military is a major driver of climate change. It is exempt from reporting its carbon emissions despite some countries’ militaries being among the largest consumers of fossil fuels in the world. It is a scandal that needs exposing.
Runaway global military spending fuels this state of affairs and impedes development in myriad ways: as a matter of urgency it must be put centre-stage as an international development, environment and human security concern.
Moreover, all current Green New Deal economic thinking (in the UK, Europe, the USA and elsewhere) must take account of the links between these two very closely linked issues: military spending and climate change.
Green New Deal Plus (GND Plus) is a three-point plan that gives shape to an essential, additional dimension to all existing Green New Deal discussions and plans – that of not just green prosperity, but peaceful green prosperity.
Current Green New Deal Thinking
Across the UK/Europe and USA there is a growing call for a ‘Green New Deal’, taking the term from President Roosevelt’s successful 1930s New Deal where investment in public works was key to reinvigorating the USA economy during the Great Depression. It was a concept revisited with the Green New Deal Group’s proposal for a ‘Green New Deal’ published by the New Economics Foundation in 2008 and their follow up ‘Plan’ in 2013. Today, a Green New Deal is a central plank in the Democratic Party’s election offer to the American people; here in the UK it is coming to the fore of Labour Party policy-thinking and is being revived by the Green Party who first adopted it as policy in 2008. There is also now a call for a progressive EU-wide Green New Deal, following in the footsteps of Green Parties across Europe.
The 21st century Green New Deal comprises primarily a set of government funded social and economic reforms and public work projects with renewable energy, resource efficiency and decarbonisation at its heart, and deliverable through a massive programme of investment in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure.
Notably absent in present day Green New Deal thinking is an awareness about the role of the world’s militaries and their significant (and profoundly under-reported) contribution to climate change. All forms and versions of current Green New Deal policy-making could be extended further by addressing runaway military spending. An ambitious strategy to address it would ensure all Green New Deal thinking is not missing this vital element.
What is Green New Deal Plus?
Green New Deal Plus argues that we cannot exempt the world’s militaries from all current and future plans for Green New Deals, wherever they may be advocated. We cannot ask major areas of economic activity (energy, mining, construction, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, commercial businesses and residential housing) to go green, cut greenhouse gas emissions and play their part in getting nations and the planet to net zero by 2050 (IPCC, 2018) while conveniently permitting some of the world’s worst emissions offenders to carry on their carbon-intensive business as normal.
While this may raise difficult issues about the nature of our global defence systems and security thinking, this is no more or less a challenge than those required of transforming our production and consumption of energy, food, water and other natural resources and our infrastructure and usage of transport fit for a green future. Indeed, aside from nuclear war (by accident or design) there is no greater threat to human survival than man-made climate change. We are in a global emergency, we need paradigm-shifting thinking on every aspect of human activity and every culpable sector must not only play its part in massive reduction of carbon emissions, but also in redefining new ways of being in this new carbon-neutral era.
Green New Deal Plus therefore believes that addressing the role of the world’s militaries in reducing climate change will bring an essential dimension to all current GND economic thinking: that of peaceful green prosperity. Why exclude carbon culprits such as defence contractors and national militaries from GND thinking that is otherwise intending to deliver economic, social and environmental justice?
Carbon emissions of F35 fighter jet per mission (28 Tonnes CO2e) = One person’s emissions (living in the West) over 2 years
USA military and defence industry combined carbon footprint: 339m tonnes CO2e. (6% of national total emissions)
If the Pentagon (which oversees the US military) was a country, it would the world’s 55th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, more than industrialised countries such as Sweden and Portugal.
US defence industry emissions for 2017 = 280m tonnes CO2e, higher than Egypt
UK military and defence industry combined carbon footprint: 13m tonnes CO2e. (3% of national total emissions)
Global carbon footprint estimate of the military-industrial complex (i.e. global militaries and defence industries) = around 5%
This is higher than carbon emissions from global Civil Aviation = 3%
Transport (including cars, trucks, airplanes, ships and other vehicles) account for 25% of global carbon emissions
Agriculture = 10%
In other words, the global military-industrial complex carbon footprint is one half and one fifth respectively of the global emissions from the everyday activities of food production and transport.
What Would a Green New Deal Plus Want to Achieve?
The three points below are a guide to how we can realise the potential benefits to any and all current GND plans that see the importance of the GND Plus concept.
- The break-up of the military-oil industry relationship and complete decarbonising of the world’s militaries
- The world’s militaries are the biggest institutional users of oil in the world and are therefore a major driver for climate change, both in terms of day-to-day operations as well as wars, many of which are conducted for oil. Runaway global military spending enables all this. A carbon-neutral world demands we fully decarbonise our militaries.
- Green New Deal Plusapplauds the ongoing efforts by all those advocating the diversification of the defence and security industries – they must also decarbonise so that they are fit for the green new world.
A decarbonised military, defence and security sector is not about delivering ‘greener ways to conduct war’: weaponry and war will always kill living beings, will always destroy and pollute environments. Rather, this idea is the starting point for much needed if challenging discussion, one that can lead us to a paradigm shift in national and international defence and security policy-making for a carbon-neutral world.
- Open up debate: what does ‘defence’ look like in a climate changed, post-pandemic world?
Green New Deal Plus calls for a decarbonised sustainable global military with a transformed and transformative doctrine fit for purpose in this century of climate breakdown and pandemic– one based on revisiting and updating earlier work on the concept of non-offensive defence and prioritising global human security through social, economic and environmental justice. Primarily, national self-interest should be replaced with global human security. Much greater investment in conflict prevention and international peacekeeping will reap significant reward – it is cheap in comparison to arms-race spending between countries, driven by self-interests, profits and domination and we need much greater investment for on the ground, local peace-building. As for security threats, we need the definitions to go much wider – from pandemic to climate chaos to far greater investment in early warning and disaster risk reduction, as well as post disaster reconstruction.
- Linked to this, we need a transformation on the UN Security Council, notably the well past its sell by date current P5 arrangement. The UN P5+1 nations charged with keeping the world’s peace account for 80% arms sales, the majority of which to the developing world. Many developing countries spend more on defence than either education or health and often buy from developed nations.
- Climate change is a social, economic and environmental issue but it is currently a pretext for some governments to expand their military/security reach. Refugees fleeing their homes because of climate change should be free to move if they must and then welcomed by other nations – not left to drown in the seas and oceans.
- Implementation of The Five Percent Formula to progressively cut runaway global military spending (and emissions) in order to fund human security; global health; international development and climate change impact; global green economy needs.
Tipping Point North South’s Five Percent Proposal makes the case that runaway military spending is a long overdue international development issue. We need to implement an ambitious, fair, practical formula that can start to pull back the scandalous sums spent individually and collectively on global military spending; to redirect those savings to urgent human need and long term development; this in addition to funds to clean up our shamefully polluted planet; and to properly fund peacekeeping and peace-building.
As we creep ever closer to a $2 trillion ‘redline’ of global annual military spending, we are about to enter another arms spending race. Should governments and multi-lateral agencies adopt the two-part Five Percent Formula, global military spending would be gradually and decisively decreased, halving over 10 years, followed by a 5% threshold formula designed to rein military spending back thereafter.
This would open up $700 billion funding over the first decade and can be allocated to address:
- International: immediate and urgent poverty reduction; sustainable development reflecting civil society activism on climate & economic justice; peace/conflict prevention & human rights; investing in the global green economy.
- Domestic: counteracting effects of austerity on public services; investing in clean, green jobs.
Historically, military spending has been central to re-enforcing power, poverty, unjust distribution of resources, economic and environmental collapse. The Green New Deal Plus argues that unless or until we place military spending in the Green New Deal ‘frame’, the economic, social and environmental GND gains will only ever be partial. Surely we need peace to accompany – indeed enable – green prosperity.
And the longstanding destructive role of western militaries is matched by the historic harm caused by those same nations’ corporate interests across the global south, notably through the extraction of resources. These commercial interests have been and remain a major cause of instability and armed conflict while developed nations grew rich on those resources. Today, although climate change is a global social, economic and environmental issue, history must not repeat itself. The solutions for climate change cannot be with the sacrifice of those same nations and peoples – the developed world must not adapt to the reality of climate breakdown at the expense of the poor. Moreover, it must not become an excuse for the global north to further militarise and exploit the global south.
Peace and green prosperity will remain elusive as long as the military-oil industry relationship remains intact and all powerful. We need a very different starting point to consider and address the annual almost $2trillion global military spend and it should be global human security. Only if we can lay that as the foundation stone, can the human family create and sustain peaceful prosperity in a green economy working in harmony with the natural world.
 The Guardian view of UK’s climate responsibility: zero emission target needed, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/26/the-guardian-view-of-uks-climate-responsibility-zero-emission-target-needed
 Evaluating the Conflict-Reducing Effect of UN Peacekeeping Operations, Håvard Hegre, Lisa Hultman and Håvard Mokleiv Nygård, 2018. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/700203
 Permanent members of the security council, USA, Russia, China, UK, France, plus Germany
 Trends In International Arms Transfers, SIPRI, 2017. https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/fssipri_at2017_0.pdf
 The $2 Trillion Redline, The Five Percent Campaign. https://tippingpointnorthsouth.org/2016/01/25/the-2-trillion-redline/
 The ‘green new deal’ supported by Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn is just a new form of colonialism, Asad Rehman, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/green-new-deal-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-corbyn-colonialism-climate-change-a8899876.html