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Militarism and Climate Change

1. Military spending versus climate finance

The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report made it clear that a $1.6 – 3.8 trillion energy system investment was required to keep global warming within a 1.5 degree scenario and avoid the most harmful effects of climate change. Yet every year the world spends far more on militarism and fossil fuels than on climate mitigation and adaptation.

In 2018 global military expenditure reached $1822 billion; fossil fuel investment (2016) was $825 billion and global climate finance (2 year average 2015 -2016) just $463 billion.

Military spending hits record levels, while climate finance falls short

A Tale of Two Puzzles: Accounting for Military and Climate Change Expenditures

2. Emissions and the military

During the United Nations climate change talks in Kyoto in 1997, the US managed to secure exemptions for the military regarding all  greenhouse gas emissions. This applied to all countries.  In 2015, the Paris Agreement stated that there would  no longer be automatic military exemptions but there would be no obligation for the military to cut emissions and the decision would be left to individual nation states.

The US military is the largest single user of fossil fuels in the world. In a recent report by the Watson Institute at Brown University, the US military has used 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases since the war on terror began in 2001  It is also the world’s largest polluter, creating 750 000 tons of toxic waste annually.

Pentagon Pollution, 7: The military assault on global climate

3. Wars for oil

According to Oil Change International, “It has been estimated that between one-quarter and one-half of all interstate wars since 1973 have been linked to oil, and that oil-producing countries are 50% more likely to have civil wars.”

“By far the greatest militarization has been in the Middle East, which holds more than half of the world’s oil reserves. The U.S. military presence – at an estimated cost of over $8 trillion since 1976 – has consistently exacerbated regional tensions and instability. Furthermore, oil producers such as Saudi Arabia have been key beneficiaries of U.S. weapons sales.”

The Iraq war of 2003 has resulted in US and UK oil companies controlling the majority of Iraq’s oil.  The main beneficiaries are ExxonMobil, BP and Shell.  The Iraqi public is  adamantly against foreign control of  oil and  “The contracts are enacting a form of privatisation without public discourse and essentially at the butt of a gun – these contracts have all been awarded during a foreign military occupation with the largest contracts going to companies from the foreign occupiers’ countries. It seems that democracy and equity are the two largest losers in this oil battle.”

It has been estimated that the Iraq war was responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) between 2003 and 2008. This is the equivalent of putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US.


The transport of oil and gas accounts for one third of all shipping. Shipping lanes and ‘choke points’, where the shipping lanes narrow, have become increasingly militarised, especially in the Gulf region.

In December 2016 HMS Daring was secretly diverted  to the strait of Bab al Mandeb, off the coast of Yemen to protect shipping from Houthi rebels. “Much of Britain’s oil and gas supplies passes through the strait, which leads to the Suez Canal. Any blockage would mean the electricity turning off across Britain, said Peter Roberts, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “It is really critical that the strait stays open.”  This is another reason for UK involvement in the war on Yemen. 

4. Catastrophic convergence

Journalist and author, Christian Parenti describes the collision of climate change, militarism and neoliberal economics as a catastrophic convergence. Each crisis compounding and amplifying the other.

Christian Parenti: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

Climate change, inequality and violence are being fuelled by a disasterous economic model, largely affecting the world’s poor.  Environmental collapse, lack of state support, youth unemployment and a plethora of weapons resulting from decades of war in the global south is resulting in violence, criminality, displacement and hopelessness.

5. Displacement and migration

In 2017, there were 30.6 million new internal displacements associated with conflict and disasters across 143 countries and territories. The ten worst-affected countries – China, the Philippines, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cuba, the United States, India, Iraq, Somalia and Ethiopia – accounted for more than  a million
new displacements each.

Overall there were 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide.

6. Other climate-related consequences of war:

Deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, oil fires, military burn pits, and cement and concrete for rebuilding large areas of towns and cities, reduced to rubble

5. Military response to climate change

The military in the US, Europe and other  developed countries tend to see climate change as a  ‘threat multiplier’, leading to instability, conflict, migration  and terrorism. In this world view the poor and dispossessed become  the ultimate security threat. The response is militarised borders and counter-insurgency.

Other concerns for the military are the threat of sea-level rise to  naval bases (especially for the US which has its bases around the world);  adapting vehicles, weapons etc. to function in extreme weather conditions, and the ability of  armed forces to perform in extreme temperatures. While acknowledging that the military need to be more fuel and energy efficient, the long term forecasts assume the continued use of oil and gas, and ‘business as usual’ for corporate interests. The increasing use of armed forces for humanitarian disaster relief is also predicted.

6. Rethinking security

The collapse of the earth’s vital systems, resulting in climate chaos, is the greatest existential threat facing humanity and there is no military solution. Wars are an environmental and human catastrophe. National security strategies based on corporate interest and competing power blocks allow no political space for truly united action. The earth is giving us a wake-up call and only by working for the common good and understanding the interdependence of our species with all life on the planet will we survive.

In recent times, the meaning of the word ‘security’ has been hijacked by  government-military-police-intelligence agendas.  In 1994 the United Nations Development Programme attempted to reclaim its original meaning (free from care)  by referring to  ‘human security’ which they define as freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity.  This definition is far more useful in responding to climate change.

In 2016,  Rethinking Security, a network of organisations, academics and activists, argued in their discussion paper that the ‘proper goal of security should be grounded in the well-being of people in their social and ecological context, rather than the interests of a nation state as determined by its elite’. They proposed four cardinal principals of security as a practice: security as a freedom; security as a common right; security as a patient practice; and security as a shared responsibility.

Climate disruption: time to speak up





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