Leading climate action trackers are ignoring the military contribution to climate change.
Pressure from campaigners, researchers and journalists has been instrumental in driving climate action by states and large corporations. Climate action tracking websites and reports play a vital role in informing this process but as Ellie Kinney writes, the leading climate tracking sites are silent on military emissions.
Data is key to action
The availability of accurate and accessible data is key to ensuring that major emitters can be held accountable and that their decarbonisation plans can be scrutinised. Climate action tracking websites and reports play an important role in this, providing expert analysis alongside key statistics to give an overview of a country or company’s climate action. However, there is one glaring absence from their research. Our analysis of leading climate action tracking websites found that none published figures or estimates on military emissions, or evaluated countries’ pledges to reduce them.
Net Zero Tracker, the Green Future Index, the Climate Change Performance Index and Climate Action Tracker each use a different methodology to rate and rank the performance of countries against a range of indicators, using data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, none of the four track or make explicit the military contribution, or any national commitments to military emissions reductions. The result is that countries such as the UK top the charts for climate action, whilst also being within the top 10 military spenders globally and responsible for significant volumes of under-reported military emissions.
Hostage to the military reporting gap?
Unfortunately, it isn’t too surprising that data on military emissions is absent across climate tracking websites, as well as status reports like the World Resources Report and even the UN Environment Programme’s influential Emissions Gap Report. Researchers can only populate websites and reports based on the information available to them and, at present, no governments are obliged to comprehensively report on their military emissions.
Additionally, emissions from militaries do not fit neatly into the UNFCCC’s reporting framework, despite the fact that militaries are some of the biggest institutional polluters. Our data collection through the Military Emissions Gap project finds that reporting of military emissions to the UNFCCC tends to be either wholly absent or incomplete, generally unclear, and highly inconsistent between countries.
However, even emissions data that is voluntarily reported by a handful of countries is missing entirely from climate tracking websites. The only place it is collated is on CEOBS and Concrete Impacts’ joint Military Emissions Gap site. The omission of even incomplete data and the lack of commentary around the issue only serves to perpetuate the military emissions gap. Scrutiny can help drive emission reductions, and transparency makes it possible for progress to be monitored. Without accessible reporting through climate action tracking websites, this data gap will continue to contribute to an accountability gap.
Scrutiny and transparency
To those who argue that military or military technology industry emissions are a special case, it is worth noting that, although defence is rarely if ever listed as a standalone industry on tracking websites, some of the top 10 arms companies can be found within other categories on Net Zero Tracker, Carbon Disclosure Project, and the Transition Pathway Initiative.
As CEOBS’ research found in 2021, reporting within the military technology sector is ‘relatively progressive’, at least within the constraints of standard Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting parameters. It’s likely that companies like BAE Systems, Raytheon Technologies, and Lockheed Martin, would not be engaged with climate action initiatives without external pressure from shareholders and investors around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting.
Additionally, some of the world’s largest military technology companies, such as Lockheed Martin and Thales, have set ambitious Net Zero targets. What this suggests is that the pressure on companies to at least appear green, and withstand scrutiny of their CSR strategies and ESG reporting, has had some positive impact on the sector’s climate action. Climate action tracking clearly puts the heat on companies – shouldn’t militaries feel the same pressure?
Militaries are responsible for significant emissions and yet face little to no scrutiny of their contribution to the climate crisis. In the UK alone, the Ministry of Defence is responsible for more than 50% of central government’s emissions. Similarly, the US Department of Defence’s climate footprint exceeds that of nearly 140 countries. It’s time to put military emissions in the spotlight and to start holding militaries accountable for their impact. Militaries need to feel the heat of the climate movement and easily accessible data and analysis is the key to making that happen.
Ellie Kinney is CEOBS’ military emissions Campaigner.