How to decarbonise defence: International Military Council shares guidelines

Russia-Ukraine war has once again exposed the vulnerabilities of dependence on fossil energy, its repercussions of climate change: Report

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Thursday 09 June 2022
How to decarbonise defence: Global military council shares guidelines Photo: iStock

Only a handful of the 30 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) share information on the carbon footprint from their defence activities, according to a new report. 

The lack of standardisation in data collection and assessment makes it difficult to calculate the greenhouse gas contributions from the sector, said the expert panel of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) in their report on the need to decarbonise defence agencies across the world.

Much of this data can reveal sensitive information and so, the countries may be hesitant to give out all onsite and offsite information, said the authors of the report released June 7, 2022. This impacts data collection as well, they added. 

The experts shared the risks, vulnerabilities that the recent war has re-exposed and the potential interventions that could be adopted for a greener military operations in Decarbonised Defence The Need For Clean Military Power In The Age of Climate Change.

The risks posed by climate change towards security is realised by the security foreign policies body across the world, according to the findings. 

The world’s defences are dominated by the use of fossil fuels, which serve as a reliable and efficient means to operate the forces across the world. But military fuel consumption does not only pose a problem in terms of operations but also involves high expenses and dependence on external suppliers, the report highlighted.

The Russian army attack on a fuel storage facility in Odessa in southern Ukraine in April 2022, for instance, crippled the Ukrainian troops fighting the Russians near the Mikolayev front, the report cited.

The IMCCS panel recommended high technology innovations such as use of bio-fuel, could help to shift them to low-carbon alternatives thus evolving the modernisation process.

Another recommendation comes to bring hybrid vehicles or alternative fuel technologies to reduce reliance on fossil energy.

The report suggests that concerted move in such a direction to combat climate change by phasing out use of fossil energy can also work as weapon against Russia in its war against the Ukraine.

NATO’s stand

In 2010, NATO acknowledged the link between climate change and security for the first time in its report Strategic Concept. The Allied forces have prioritised adaptation to the drawbacks of climate change on various aspects of the military such as its installations, equipment, force readiness and operations, it noted.

Reducing the reliance on fossil fuels considering the vulnerabilities and frequent attacks on NATO fuel supplies has been the major driving force for such considerations, the report added.

The recent risks and the commitments of the United States and the European Union to become carbon neutral by 2050 and the recent conflict have compelled the western international organisations and the European Union (EU) to accelerate the process of military decarbonisation, the IMCCS report noted.

NATO strongly believes that decarbonisation can be achieved by initially introducing innovations and sustainable solutions in sectors of operating buildings, facilities, short and medium distance vehicles, equipment and energy consumption. 

It also recommends collaborations with private entities to use drones, 3D printing technology and others through R&D and reduce carbon emissions. 

The other hurdle faced is that there is no common consensus among NATO Allies to measure and report on carbon emissions as the provisions under the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement to the UNFCCC allows an exemption from reporting obligations. 

NATO does not hold power to impose or even enact binding on emission reduction targets for its Allied member nations. 

“NATO is not a first responder to climate change. This role is played by other international bodies, in particular those who can set limits on CO2 emissions,” said Michael Ruehle, head of climate and energy security section at NATO.

NATO instead seeks to become “the leading international organization when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security,” the NATO 2030 agenda stated in 2021.

Even though the Alliance does not seek to position itself as a “first responder to climate change,” it nevertheless has a range of tools in its toolbox that can support Allied emissions reduction efforts, both directly and indirectly, the document pointed out.

However, NATO in its Brussels Summit in June 2021, expressed interest to draw up a methodology to assist Allies measure their carbon emissions from military operations. The process to compile the best practices is underway to enable Allies to map and derive models to best understand carbon emissions, the intergovernmental body noted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is already working to formulate a realistic target and find feasible solutions for its allied militaries to achieve carbon natural emissions by 2050, it said.

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