The lack of transparency over military emissions may be a greater risk to national security than reporting them.
While a few militaries report their greenhouse gas emissions, others do not, often citing national security concerns. In this post, Linsey Cottrell compares this to commercial confidentiality practice, gives examples of military datasets available in the public domain and questions whether the security implications of military emissions reporting are real or imagined.
Reporting disparities between militaries and with other sectors
Attention on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues continues to increase. In turn it is helping organisations understand and reduce their adverse impacts on ESG criteria, including on climate change impacts. A 2021 PwC survey indicated that 91% of business leaders believed their company had a responsibility to act on ESG issues, with both consumers and employees wanting business to do more. This included action on climate change, with mitigation and transparent reporting around an organisation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To date, more than 13,000 businesses and institutions have already joined the UN Race to Net Zero Campaign, committing amongst other things to publish progress and report in a standardised and open format.
External scrutiny and public pressure to ensure that net zero pledges are delivered remains important. Analysis by Net Zero Tracker noted that despite a growth in pledges, the majority of companies, organisations and countries ‘have not yet committed to end fossil fuel exploration, production, and use on a timescale consistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals.’
Most militaries lag far behind private sector and other public sector organisations on emissions reporting and mitigation, with huge gaps in data and a lack of overall understanding of the military’s contribution to the climate crisis. UNEP’s 2023 Emissions Gap report noted that military emissions ‘remain insufficiently accounted under UNFCCC reporting conventions.’ As we have reported since 2022, submissions to the UNFCCC on military fuel use are incomplete, with national security or confidentiality given by some governments as a reason to not provide disaggregated data.1
Other military data is available
There are countries that already provide some annual military GHG emissions data. They include Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Norway has published emissions data since 2012. The reluctance of some governments to provide even disaggregated military fuel use data to the UNFCCC, or to publicly report military emissions through in-country reporting, does not align with the availability of other military datasets. This includes information or data accessible through Freedom of Information systems or government announcements, and which could be more consequential for national security, such as:
- military spending data, as collated by SIPRI, or submitted voluntarily to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs;
- real-time tracking of some naval vessels using the Automatic Identification System (AIS), and military aircraft using Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) data;
- military structure, strategy, equipment profiles and personnel numbers – for example as published in the IISS Military Balance reports and Janes yearbooks; and
- military contract awards – for example, US Department of Defense contracts valued above US$ 7.5 million.
The broad availability of such datasets reinforces the notion that national security or confidentially are not sound reasons for refusal to provide information on military GHG emissions through domestic reporting, or to the UNFCCC.
Greater transparency would make us all more secure
The benefits of better climate transparency are clear. The UNFCCC argues that transparency improves the development of national climate policies, plans and strategies, and increases awareness, political will, support and capacity.
Pressure for greater transparency is set to increase, and logic dictates that this must include militaries and their supply chains, given their huge dependency on fossil fuels and contribution to global emissions. In the US, recent proposals for military industries to improve their emissions reporting generated a hysterical response from right-leaning thinktanks – in spite of the fact that many companies already report. In Europe, the military technology sector will shortly be facing closer scrutiny. In July 2023, the EU adopted the new European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), for use by all companies subject to the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).
The ESRS has ‘disclosure requirements’ on GHG emissions, and takes account of both the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards, reflecting the need for transparency, accountability and credibility. While the ESRS does not require disclosure of classified or sensitive information, all other information is still required, and every reasonable effort should made to ensure that the overall relevance of the disclosure requirement is not impaired.
The Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures guidance,2 also noted that business should not default to confidentiality as a reason for avoiding disclosures on climate change, and that the reasons why data is excluded should be given. If disclosure concerns do remain, other measures can also be taken. The GHG Protocol suggests that confidentiality concerns can be avoided by independent third party assurance, rather than by submitting the detailed activity data that results in the GHG emissions.
Governments must be more transparent over their military emissions, and avoid weak excuses for data gaps. All the more so because the options available for public scrutiny of the climate and environmental performance of militaries are very limited, certainly when compared to the options for scrutiny of the commercial sector or other public institutions. Legislation, as well as customer, shareholder and investor concern around ESG is driving change in the private and public sector, but militaries require other sources of pressure. The situation is not helped by the national defence exemption in instruments such as the Aarhus Convention, which gives citizens the right to access environmental information held by public authorities.
Toward a global norm on transparent reporting
The European Parliament recently passed a resolution that called for transparent accounting of military emissions to the UNFCCC and for EU Member States to ensure that military GHG emissions are included in domestic net zero targets. This echoed policies already promoted by the European Commission. This is a very welcome step and reporting obligations should be focused on the UNFCCC. While NATO has indicated its ambition to improve reporting across the alliance, global standards and reporting norms within the existing international climate architecture are ultimately more important, and more likely to ensure buy-in from all countries.
Transparency in reporting must be encouraged, and is vital to drive global attention on the policies and technologies needed to reduce the military’s contribution to the climate crisis. A failure to act on military emissions poses a far greater risk to our security than reporting them will ever do.
Linsey Cottrell is CEOBS’ Environmental Policy Officer.
- For example, Croatia (NIR 2023), Finland (NIR 2023), France (NIR 2023) and Poland (NIR 2023). Most Non-Annex I countries also fail to report any disaggregated data to the UNFCCC on military fuel use, although the reasons are not necessarily given.
- TCFG transfers over to ISSB from 2024 – https://www.ifrs.org/news-and-events/news/2023/07/foundation-welcomes-tcfd-responsibilities-from-2024