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COP26 States Should Agree to Cut Military Emissions

Governments Should Recognize Militaries as Greenhouse Gas Emitters

A Chinese special warfare equipment unit participates in celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, October 1, 2019. © 2019 Imaginechina via AP Images

The armies, navies, and air forces of the world are significant greenhouse gas emitters and contribute to the climate crisis taking a growing toll on the lives, health, and livelihoods of people globally.

With all eyes on Glasgow this week as world leaders gather for the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26), global pressure is building on countries to mitigate the substantial – if largely unreported – impact militaries are having on the climate crisis.

Human Rights Watch and dozens of other nongovernmental organizations joined the call for action by the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) on October 28 for the parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement to commit during COP26 to reducing their militaries’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“Militaries are huge energy users and contribute significant GHG emissions, as well as causing wider adverse environmental impacts from training, activities and operations,” stated the CEOBS, launched in 2018 to increase awareness of the environmental and humanitarian impact of conflicts and military activities. “Militaries are typically the largest energy consumers among government agencies but historically there has been a reluctance to disclose data on their emissions.”

The pledge includes commitments to set reduction targets for the military consistent with the 1.5oC targets specified by the Paris Agreement; improved reporting of emissions by militaries; and clear targets to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and increase the use of renewable energies.

Military emissions should be included in the overall calculation of each state’s emissions, and governments should set clear emissions reduction targets for the military.

As state actors, militaries will be more readily subject to emissions monitoring and reductions requirements than private actors. Getting militaries to act is another story. Key will be convincing reluctant military commanders that green armed forces are in their best interests too.

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