More wars, more emissions

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has just announced its intention to investigate the ecological impact of the war in the Gaza Strip. Waste management facilities have been damaged or destroyed, at least 100,000 m3 of wastewater is discharged daily into land or the Mediterranean Sea and the total amount of debris (as of January 7, 2024) amounts to 22.9 million of tons. «Due to the type of war, there is concern about the rubble of buildings, what will be done with them? They probably end up in the sea and not only do they contain cement but they also contain a lot of substances, some of which are polluting,” says Fernando Cocho, intelligence and national security risk analyst.

Without forgetting all the humanitarian horror that war generates, the environment is considered the silent and collateral victim of armed conflicts. Because how much does a missile pollute? A razed building? The presence of anti-personnel mines on arable land? During the first year of the Second World War alone, 400,000 dogs and cats were slaughtered in Britain. In Kosovo, there are still fertile lands that no one dares to cultivate due to the presence of anti-personnel mines, and in Vietnam, the famous Agent Orange is still present in the land and water and, of course, continues to wreak havoc on the population.

However, more and more organizations are studying the impact of conflicts on air, water, fauna and land and the general impact of defense industry activity. In Ukraine, the EcoAction organization registered at least 1,549 cases of environmental damage in just 18 months. Among others, damage has been verified in industrial facilities such as the Azovstal metallurgical plant, the constant nuclear danger at the Zaporizhia power plant and the collapse of the Nova Kajovka dam, on the Dnieper River. In addition to generating supply problems for the population, more than 120 km2 of forest were flooded in the Kherson region, in the Krivoy Rog district almost 900 kilos of dead fish of different species appeared and chemicals present in the sediments of the dammed water.

«There has never been such a proliferation of proxy wars and conflicts like that of Yemen (8 years) or Syria (13 years), which drag on in time and the military industry rubs its hands because a lot of weapons are consumed. Never have so many bullets been manufactured as now and there has been such a lack of ammunition (if Europe entered the war now it would not last a week because the entire stock has been taken to Ukraine). Furthermore, these conflicts do not produce great advances and do produce serious impacts because they do not allow, for example, any agricultural development,” warns Fernando Cocho. In addition, weapons production and military tests also leave their mark. «We are not aware of the consequences of the proliferation of weapons and defense policies. It is not so much the pollution itself as an industry that can be equivalent to any other, it is more the impact of technology that is outdated or products that are abandoned and contaminate the land for decades,” the analyst clarifies.

And what happens with CO2? In 2022, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the organization's intention to reduce the organization's emissions by 45% by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050, betting, among other things, on new non-fossil fuels to land, sea and air vehicles. But are the emissions from the military sector really known? According to a study published in 2022 by the English organization Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) and the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), it is an organization that was born in 2018 precisely to study the environmental impacts of wars. . The universities of Harvard, Edinburgh and Leeds participate in it), the armies represent 5.5% of global emissions. More than double what commercial aviation pollutes and if it were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter in the world.

Rising emissions

They also warn that military emissions were excluded from the 1997 Kyoto protocol and are included in the 2015 Paris agreement but without obligations. That is, countries were invited to report them but on a voluntary basis. «Only a handful of States do it, although many times partially and in other categories. “What is emitted in international waters or in airspace, a fundamental part of the military footprint, does not even appear,” says Stuart Parkinson, director of the scientific organization SGR and co-author of said report to RTVE. According to a study published in 2019 and carried out by Brown University (USA), the Pentagon has emitted 1.2 billion tons of CO2 from 2001 to 2018.”

In addition, budgets allocated to defense are increasing. In July 2023, Spain also made the commitment to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP (a historic goal of the Atlantic Alliance and one that in just a few months has been adopted by at least a dozen countries). As budgets increase, emissions increase; According to data from the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Center Delàs d'Estudis per la Pau, NATO's military spending has gone from 1,160 million dollars in 2021 to 1,260 million in 2023 and its emissions have increased from 196 million of metric tons to 226 (in just two years, emissions can be equated to the CO2 of eight million cars on the road). «If we spoke as if it were a country, it would occupy position 40 in the world ranking of emitting states above Ethiopia or the Netherlands. Furthermore, if all the countries of the Alliance assume 2%, the military carbon footprint of this group of nations would reach 467 million metric tons in the next eight years,” say the aforementioned entities.

The contrast with what was announced by the NATO secretary is evident. But apart from this, these same organizations say, these funds could cover the Green Climate Fund for 12 years (a tool created in the Paris Agreement of $100,000 per year for the adaptation of developing countries). . NATO's announcements are seen as greenwashing because “at the same time, weapons such as the F-35 fighter are being developed that pollute more than twice as much as an F-16,” Parkinson explained to the media.

The nuclear danger

Nuclear weapons have not been used since the Second World War (“the disaster if an escalation of nuclear attacks occurred would be absolute. No part would survive for long,” says Cocho), but in the half century that passed between the launching of the atomic bomb About Hiroshima and the nuclear test ban treaty of the 90s, 2,000 tests were carried out around the world that released radiation into the atmosphere and oceans, not to mention Spain, where 40 hectares of land in Palomares are still fenced due to high levels. of radiation, 58 years after the accident of two US Air Force aircraft.

Beyond conventional warfare

In addition to conventional or nuclear weapons, there is a whole catalog of new technologies that are expanding weapons possibilities. «It is known that armies such as the US or China have electromagnetic pulse bombs that would burn the electronic devices of entire cities. They have only been used to cause specific interference, but if they were used they would generate absolute chaos and a huge amount of electronic waste. Satellites can also be used as kamikaze weapons to blind the enemy,” says Fernando Cocho. And what about biological weapons? AI and gene editing tools like CRISPR make it easy to create organisms at low cost. In fact, more than a hundred scientists have just signed a letter against the creation of biological weapons with AI. Just to give an example of the danger they represent: ESMFold, Meta's AI, has described the structure of 700 million proteins of microorganisms present in the environment and in the body.