• Eirini Sampson

The military's unreported emissions

It's 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and global political leaders and decision-makers come to a historical agreement on combating climate change through emission ceilings and binding targets to this end. This is also including mandatory reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions - with a caveat ensured by the US government at the time: military emissions are to be exempt from this requirement.


This exemption was struck out in 2012 after the Paris Agreement, but nations came to multilateral agreements to make reporting on military emissions discretionary. The Paris Agreement, equally, did not demand the cut of military emissions either. To this end, some countries have chosen to report their military emissions - such as Germany - and others, including France, have not. the US makes some estimates as to its military's emissions, which do not account for the thousands of overseas bases, or tactical fleets due to national security interests. Others incorporate military emissions in other sector reporting such as transportation and aviation. The military's emissions are a fraction of the problem - the impact of military activity such as waste management. This creates further challenges for estimating the military's carbon footprint. Research shows a massive difference in direct and indirect emissions - with particular attention being given to indirect emissions including military technology and arms production (see below).


A key player in this is law-making and ineffective policy design in climate change reporting. For instance, certain European countries provide (non-mandatory) guidelines for the reporting of greenhouse emissions by corporations of public-interest which includes arm production, but statistical data varies on this reporting as well, making it hard to decipher a realistic image of military direct and indirect emissions. This switches the narrative to incorporate military emissions in statistics representing daily activities such as transportation. The concerns over the little oversight on how much armies around the world emit annually, have been noted by various representatives.


Several people have called for a carbon-neutral army by 2050 in the NATO alliance but little has been done to facilitate this. Recently, NATO established a Climate Change and Security Action Plan to incorporate the military's emissions in the climate-change narrative, but this needs to become tangible legal obligations rather than a friendly invitation to chat about emissions. Equally, little is done to incorporate these concerns and create mandatory reporting requirements for armies in the upcoming COP26. Governments should create transparent and robust reporting systems for their military emissions - to the extent that this does not compromise national security - to ensure that appropriate mitigation strategies are put in place to reduce emissions.