According to a 2019 research, if the United States Military were a country, it would be the world’s 47th highest emitter of climate-warming greenhouse gases.
Despite the fact that the study by the British universities of Lancaster and Durham focused solely on emissions from fuel use, it demonstrated the massive influence that military forces around the world had on the planet’s climate.
Faced with a battle against global warming, NATO has made it a primary focus of planning and strategy for the first time.
Leaders of the Western military alliance are expected to agree on a climate action plan on Monday, with the goal of making their armed forces carbon-neutral by 2050 and adapting to global warming challenges.
NATO diplomats say efforts to focus on climate change were stymied during Donald Trump’s U.S. presidency. He called climate change a “hoax” and pulled the United States out of the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change.
Trump also expressed a lack of trust in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in 2018 threatened to withdraw the United States from the alliance formed in 1949 to contain a Soviet military threat.
Now, with U.S. President Joe Biden prioritizing climate action, the diplomats said NATO was able to act on concerns that climate change is a threat both to transatlantic security and to alliance personnel.
“This is a defining challenge of our time, and we must be an organization that leads on it,” a senior European NATO diplomat told Reuters.
NATO member states’ militaries have long been aware that climate change will have huge security implications, expected to include increased migration, flooding at coastal NATO bases and a larger Russian presence in the Arctic as sea ice melts.
However, because NATO sets fuel standards across the organization, member nations must change at the center of the alliance to cut their own climate-warming emissions from fossil fuel use.
NATO’s action plan would connect the organization with the Paris Agreement’s goal of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by promising to eradicate net CO2 emissions by 2050.
According to research published in 2019 by Neta Crawford of Boston University, meeting that goal will necessitate reducing military emissions, which are frequently exempted from countries’ carbon emission targets. This will be no easy task for the US Department of Defense, which is the world’s single largest consumer of petroleum.
While experts say EU countries under-report emissions from national militaries, a study commissioned by the European Parliament calculated in February that the carbon footprint of EU military expenditure in 2019 was about 24.8 million tones of carbon dioxide equivalent – about the same as the CO2 emissions released by around 14 million cars.
According to a German defense expert who did not want to be identified, a main battle tank like the Leopard 2 consumes 400 liters (106 gallons) of diesel in the field to go merely 100 kilometers (62 miles). According to a 2020 International Energy Agency research, the average fuel consumption of a light-duty civilian vehicle in the United States was 9.4 liters per 100 kilometers in 2018.
Tank warfare may become more difficult as a result of global warming. Temperatures in German Ozelot tanks climbed beyond 40 degrees Celsius during a NATO exercise in Poland in 2019, according to a military source, and personnel could only stay inside for a few hours at a time.
Some NATO allies are working to reduce electricity use or are integrating climate prediction models into military missions. Germany has its first carbon-neutral barracks, producing energy almost completely from geothermal power and solar panels. The Dutch military can use solar panels instead of diesel generators during operations.
Climate change, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is a “crisis multiplier.”
Military forces are also expecting additional operations in climate-vulnerable areas, as troops are called upon to assist in the aftermath of natural disasters caused by climate change. Because of NATO’s ability to immediately supply food, logistical, and medical support, crisis management is one of the organization’s most important responsibilities.
According to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, eight of the ten nations that host the biggest number of personnel engaging in multilateral peace operations are in locations that are especially vulnerable to climate change.
Allies are also putting more equipment through its paces in order to operate in extreme temperatures. According to European defense authorities, asset durability on the battlefield has long been a priority.
After Biden replaced Trump, Stoltenberg, a former United Nations special envoy on climate change, began pushing for a NATO climate accord, diplomats say. At NATO, allies have yet to decide how much climate-related spending they will fund collectively.
“The security policy community now views climate change as a driver of conflict more explicitly,” said Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who now works at the Brussels-based Friends of Europe think group.
Because military assets take decades to develop and have a longer life than civilian vehicles, one of NATO’s biggest contributions in the medium term, experts say, will be in increased use of synthetic fuels instead of fossil fuels.
Synthetic fuels, which are made from water, CO2, and renewable energy, do not emit sulphur or nitrogen emissions while maintaining a high energy density. Kerosene, one of the most polluting fuels, is used by NATO to power planes and ships.
In a few years, the German military, the Bundeswehr, may begin mixing synthetic fuel with regular fuel.
Electric tanks, on the other hand, aren’t an option.
“It will be tough to construct recharge stations on the battlefield in time before the fighting begins,” stated an anonymous German army source.