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Revealed: the carbon cost of rebuilding Gaza after months of Israeli bombing
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Revealed: the carbon cost of rebuilding Gaza after months of Israeli bombing

The carbon cost of rebuilding Gaza will be greater than the annual greenhouse gas emissions generated individually by 135 countries, exacerbating the global climate emergency on top of the unprecedented death toll, new research reveals.

Reconstructing the estimated 200,000 apartment buildings, schools, universities, hospitals, mosques, bakeries, water and sewage plants damaged and destroyed by Israel in the first four months of the war on Gaza will generate as much as 60m tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e), according to new analysis by researchers in the UK and US. This is on a par with the total 2022 emissions generated by countries such as Portugal and Sweden – and more than twice the annual emissions of Afghanistan.

Long-term reconstruction will generate the largest carbon cost from the war on Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 36,500 Palestinians – mostly women and children – and thousands more remain buried under the rubble and presumed dead. Around 26m tons of debris and rubble have been left in the wake of Israel’s bombardment, which could take years to clean up.

The research, published on the Social Science Research Network, shows:

  • The planet-warming emissions generated by aerial and ground attacks during the first 120 days of the war on Gaza were greater than the annual carbon footprint of 26 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations including Vanuatu and Greenland, according to the research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

  • More than 99% of the estimated 652,552 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2 equivalent/CO2e) estimated to have been generated in the first four months after the Hamas attack on 7 October are linked to Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza.

  • Almost 30% of the total CO2e emissions were generated by the 244 American cargo planes known to have flown bombs, munitions and other military supplies to Israel in the first 120 days.

  • According to the calculation, which is almost certainly a significant underestimate due to missing military emissions data, the carbon cost of the first 120 days of Israel’s assault on Gaza was equivalent to the combined annual energy use of 77,200 American households.

The analysis, shared exclusively with the Guardian, provides a conservative snapshot of the climate cost of the current war on Gaza, in addition to the unprecedented killings, deliberate famine, infrastructure damage and environmental catastrophe.

It also underscores the asymmetry of each side’s war machinery:

  • Hamas rockets fired into Israel between October 2023 and February 2024 generated an estimated 1,140 tCO2e. Another 2,700 tCO2e were attributed to the fuel stored by the group prior to 7 October. Combined, the Hamas carbon footprint over the first 120 days was equivalent to the annual energy use of 454 American homes.

“While the world’s attention is rightly focused on the humanitarian catastrophe, the climate consequences of this conflict are also catastrophic,” said Ben Neimark, a senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and co-author of the research. “Yet our study is only a snapshot accounting for the major reported greenhouse gas emissions from the war machine in the first 120 days.”

“One of the serious consequences of the war in Gaza has been the massive violation of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment … which represent a serious risk to life and the enjoyment of all other rights,” said Astrid Puentes, the new UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. “The region is already experiencing serious climate impacts that could get even worse.”

The 120-day analysis, which builds on earlier research reported by the Guardian in January, includes direct CO2e emissions from bombing and reconnaissance flights, tanks and fuel from other vehicles, as well as emissions generated by manufacturing and exploding hundreds of thousands of bombs, artillery and rockets.

  • For the first time, researchers also calculated emissions from trucks making the 370-mile (595.5km) round trip from Egypt to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid to 2.3 million starving Palestinians trapped under bombardment. The 1,400 or so trucks Israel allowed to enter Gaza between early October and February generated almost 9,000 tonnes of CO2e, the study found.

  • An additional 58,000 CO2e emissions came from diesel-powered generators now relied upon to generate electricity in Gaza after Israel damaged or destroyed the enclave’s solar facilities and single power plant. (Before the conflict, about 25% of Gaza’s electricity came from solar panels, one of the world’s highest shares.)

“Quite apart from the unspeakable destruction in Gaza and across Palestine, this report lays bare the hypocrisy of western nations who moralize about the perils of climate breakdown and the responsibility of every nation to protect the planet – all the while funding, aiding and enabling the Israeli regime’s catastrophic war and its implications for those affected by ongoing and future climate change,” said Zena Agha, policy analyst at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, who writes about the climate crisis and the Israeli occupation.

A view of the devastation wrought by Israeli forces in Khan YounisView image in fullscreen

Emissions generated by flights bringing aid to neighboring countries for onward deliveries to Gaza, methane emissions, conflict-related fires and the forced displacement of millions of Palestinians are among other CO2e sources omitted from the study due to missing data. The shipping emissions generated by transporting military jet fuel shipped from the US to Israel is also not included.

The Israeli government did not respond to requests for comment on the research.

Israel’s assault on Gaza after Hamas killed more than 1,100 people and took hundreds hostage has caused unprecedented death and destruction. Between 54% and 66% of all buildings in the Gaza strip had been destroyed or damaged by 14 February. The economic cost of damage to critical infrastructure from the first four months is estimated at $18.5bn, according to World Bank and UN research.

International legal experts have said Israel is committing domicide – the mass destruction of homes and living conditions to make a territory uninhabitable – and ecocide. Satellite imagery provided to the Guardian in March showed that almost half the Gaza Strip’s tree cover and farmland also has been destroyed, while hazardous materials left behind by Israeli munitions pose a long-term threat to the entire ecosystem.

In January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found plausible evidence that Israel’s acts amount to genocide. The ICJ last month ordered Israel to halt its assault on the southern city of Rafah, which Israel has ignored, forcing more than 1 million Palestinian refugees to flee again, enduring dangerously high temperatures without adequate shelter, water or food.

“As long as this war continues, the implications will be exacerbated with horrific consequences on emissions, climate change and hindering climate action in Gaza,” said Hadeel Ikhmais, head of the climate change office at the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority. According to Ikhmais, the biggest existential threat facing Palestinians before Israel’s alleged “acts of genocide” was the climate crisis with rising sea level, extreme heat, erratic rains and drought all posing serious and cumulative threats.

Yet, despite mounting concern about the long-term environmental and climate consequences of this – and every – war and occupation, military emissions remain opaque and are rarely accounted for.

Thanks in part to pressure from the US, reporting military emissions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) remains voluntary. Only four countries submit some incomplete data to the UNFCCC, which organises the annual climate-action talks.

Despite the lack of reporting, one recent study found that militaries account for almost 5.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually – more than the aviation and shipping industries combined and higher than every single country except the US, China and India. Neither the state of Israel nor Palestinian authorities appear to have ever reported military emissions figures to the UNFCCC.

The new study estimates that Israel’s baseline 2023 military carbon footprint – without accounting for warfare – was 3.85m tCO2e. This amounts to about 5% of Israel’s annual emissions – and roughly double the 2022 CO2e emissions as the entire island nation of Bahamas. (No comparable military emissions could be calculated for Palestine, due to Hamas’s ad hoc offensive capabilities, according to researchers.)

But life in Palestine – and the border with Israel – was militarized long before 7 October.

In occupied Gaza, most Palestinians had long faced significant food, water and energy insecurity due to the Israeli occupation and blockade, population density and the worsening climate crisis. Israelis meanwhile lived under the threat of rocket fire.

To capture some of the climate consequences of the militarized setting, researchers calculated the carbon footprint of the conflict-related concrete infrastructure – walls and tunnels – in Gaza and Israel.

According to the analysis, constructing the Gaza Metro – the 500km (310.7-mile) underground network of tunnels used to move and hide everything from basic supplies to weapons, Hamas fighters and hostages – generated an estimated 478,800 tCO2e – more than the total 2022 emissions of Saint Lucia, a climate-vulnerable Caribbean island.

Building Israel’s iron wall, which runs 65km (40.4 miles) along most of its border with Gaza and features surveillance cameras, underground sensors, razor wire, a 20ft-high metal fence and large concrete barriers, contributed almost 312,387 tCO2e. This is more than Tonga, the south Pacific archipelago facing an existential threat from sea level rise.

The analysis does not account for pre-7 October emissions generated by Israeli tanks, military vehicles and soldiers who were constantly on the move in historic Palestine before this conflict, nor the full extent of the energy expended importing billions of dollars in weapons, fuel and other military equipment each year.

The carbon snapshot comes amid mounting calls for greater accountability of military emissions.

“The figures show how significant the emissions from conflicts can be, yet there is no agreed international methodology on how to estimate these emissions, and as a result they are being overlooked,” said Linsey Cottrell, environmental policy officer at the Conflict and Environment Observatory and co-author of the new study. “It’s vital that the carbon costs of war are counted alongside their wider humanitarian and environmental consequences.”

Source: theguardian.com