A recent study found that the United States and United Kingdom military forces are responsible for a total of $111 billion in reparations for damages caused by climate change.
A groundbreaking study has determined that the United States and United Kingdom militaries are responsible for at least $111 billion in reparations owed to the communities most affected by their contributions to climate change.
The study utilizes a “social cost of carbon” structure – a method for approximating the monetary cost of the environmental harm caused by every extra metric ton of carbon in the atmosphere.
Patrick Bigger, co-author of the report and research director of the Climate and Community Project, stated that the expenses involved in sustaining the worldwide military presence of the US and UK armed forces are remarkable.
As stated in the report from Common Wealth and the Climate and Community Project, a UK-based thinktank and a US-based organization, the combined militaries have emitted approximately 430m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since the signing of the 2015 United Nations Paris climate agreement. This is a higher amount than the total greenhouse gas emissions of the entire UK in the previous year.
According to researchers, the US military should provide $106 billion in international climate funding and the UK military should provide $5 billion as a form of compensation for the harm caused by their emissions. This calculation was developed by a Columbia University researcher in 2021.
According to the authors, those numbers may seem shocking, but they are considered to be “very cautious.”
“We aimed to understand the least amount of climate finance that these countries are responsible for due to the impact of their military actions,” stated Khem Rogaly, a researcher at Common Wealth and co-author of the study. “However, this is only the minimum amount.”
One factor is that the data used for these statistics is unreliable and incomplete, as it only includes emissions from the US and UK governments and does not consider emissions from their supply chains. The data is also missing information from 2017 and 2018 due to the UK military’s failure to report emissions estimates, and from 2022 as the US has not yet released this data. Additionally, the calculations do not incorporate certain climate effects caused by military operations, such as the greenhouse gas emissions of jet fuel.
The United Kingdom and the United States have developed strategies to reduce the environmental impact of their military operations.
Researchers state that the US and UK militaries have a significant environmental impact that goes beyond greenhouse gas emissions. They point out that the social cost of carbon does not consider the health consequences for communities living near military operations. For example, in places like Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s caused significant harm to the environment. In Vieques, Puerto Rico, decades of chemical pollution by the US navy increased the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease for locals. Similarly, in Iraq, the use of depleted uranium by troops during the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion resulted in widespread health issues, including birth defects.
According to Rogaly, these two armed forces have approximately 900 overseas bases. The consequences of maintaining such a large number of military facilities around the globe will have a significant impact, as they require fossil fuel supplies, land clearing, construction for military purposes, and contribute to contamination with hazardous waste.
Basav Sen, the director of the climate policy project at the Institute for Policy Studies think tank, stated that the report is essential, after conducting a review.
He stated that it is impossible for us to track our emissions if we do not take into account the military-industrial complex.
The significant influence of militaries on the environment.
According to a 2022 estimate from international experts, militaries are significant contributors to the climate emergency, responsible for 5.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The recent study’s authors stated that they specifically examined the US and UK armed forces due to their significant role as “creators” of the contemporary fossil fuel industry since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
According to Senator, Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, which was founded on the use of capital, unpaid labor, and land obtained through colonization of countries in the global south.
According to Senator, the US has taken over the role of “successor state to Britain” as the leading imperial superpower in the world. He also emphasized the significant role of US military strength in protecting capitalist interests, particularly in fossil fuel extraction.
According to two separate studies in 2019, the US military is both the largest greenhouse gas emitter and the biggest consumer of fossil fuel among institutions globally.
Since 1997, military emissions have been excluded from global climate agreements due to the US’s efforts to prevent overseas military operations from being included in the Kyoto protocol. In 2015, during the Paris negotiations, the exemption was officially removed, but reporting of military emissions remains optional.
Redressing the contributions
The report suggests that both nations should contribute a total of $111 billion to a fund that is independently managed and aimed at assisting low-income countries that are most affected by the climate crisis. Priority would be given to regions near military infrastructure belonging to the US and UK.
The authors propose that the necessary funds should be allocated from military budgets and that both nations must shut down a portion of their bases. Additionally, they suggest establishing a worldwide military “superfund” initiative to cover the costs of environmental remediation through methods such as direct payments, technology transfer, and job training at affected sites.
According to the study, both the US and UK should conduct a thorough evaluation of the harm they have inflicted on the environment. The authors suggest that these governments should also redirect some of their military and weapons production industries towards eco-friendly manufacturing, taking inspiration from past initiatives led by workers. For example, in the 1970s, employees at Lucas Aerospace in the UK proposed a conversion plan to produce essential items such as medical equipment and heat pumps in response to production cuts.
In 2019, the US Department of Defense initiated measures to tackle supply chain emissions. In 2020, it declared a reduction of 23% in emissions compared to 2008 levels (excluding emissions from ships, aircrafts, and combat vehicles). The UK Ministry of Defence has likewise reported a decrease in pollution and an increase in sustainability efforts, aligning with the country’s goal of achieving net zero emissions in all sectors by 2050.
According to the authors, attempting to make military operations more environmentally friendly while still carrying out current operations is not an effective solution.
Rogaly stated that relying on “green” fuels will not be enough. A comprehensive program that covers base closures, reduced operations, environmental cleanup, climate finance, and just transition plans for military personnel is necessary for addressing the issue.