NATO’s emissions tracking methodology – as important for what it includes as for what it omits,
NATO’s Vilnius summit saw the publication of three new documents on climate action, including its long-awaited Greenhouse Gases Emission Mapping and Analytical Methodology. In this post, Ellie Kinney examines the summit’s climate outputs and their context.
At last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Ukraine was the main focus of attention, with the announcement of a new military package, the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine Council, and debate on the future of the country’s pending membership. But alongside the backdrop of a war edging close to NATO’s border, the summit took place after a week in which the World Meteorological Organisation had declared the planet’s hottest week on record. A suitable time then for the organisation to release three new documents: its second Climate Impact Assessment, its Compendium of Best Practice and finally, its long-awaited Greenhouse Gases Emission Mapping and Analytical Methodology. According to NATO, the new documents step up its work on climate change and security but do they go far enough?
“What gets measured, can get cut.”
First announced at NATO’s Brussels summit in 2021 as part of the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan, the methodology aims to help NATO members assess their military emissions, and “could” contribute to formulating voluntary goals to reduce them. Currently, there is no global standard for measuring or reporting military emissions, although we have offered our own ideas on what should be included in one.
A year on from Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg used the Madrid summit in 2022 to announce plans for the organisation to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to work towards Net Zero by 2050, using NATO’s new methodology to track and monitor emissions. “This is vital”, the Secretary General said at the first High-Level Dialogue on Climate Change and Security, “because only what gets measured, can get cut”.
Civil society demands
Last year, 126 organisations signed our call for NATO to make its GHG emissions tracking methodology public, so that independent experts could assess its credibility. We asked that NATO commit to counting emissions using the widely used GHG Protocol, and independent verification, and to reporting them in a way that is robust, comparable and transparent.
We also pointed out that NATO as an institution is not the main source of NATO’s emissions, the vast majority come from the militaries of NATO’s members, and are therefore excluded from NATO’s institutional Net Zero pledge. Because of this, we also asked NATO members to commit to verifiable military GHG emission reduction targets that are consistent with the 1.5oC target in the Paris Agreement. Last week’s announcement began to tick some of these boxes – with one significant exclusion.
The methodology – a step in the right direction
The publication of the methodology is a welcome step forward. Transparency enables independent actors to assess its credibility, and offer suggestions for future updates – as CEOBS’ Environmental Policy Officer Linsey Cottrell has done. The methodology is based on the GHG protocol, and it does state that it is independently verified, although no information is provided on the verification process used.
However, NATO members are still excluded from NATO’s institutional Net Zero pledge. Similarly, the methodology fails to set out their militaries’ emission reduction targets, or commitments, or whether these align with the Paris Agreement to keep global heating below 1.5oC. Since NATO has no powers to instruct its members’ national reporting or target setting, this isn’t too surprising.
However, the methodology does state that it may be useful to NATO members in facilitating the development of their own national plans, and that it has been developed drawing on their existing best practice. This demonstrates that NATO can take a lead through encouraging members to implement the methodology, through reporting emissions data and by making further improvements to the methodology.
The missing emissions
One surprising and significant omission from the methodology is the exclusion of specific organisational emissions. Whilst it states that it covers “the NATO enterprise”, including NATO’s civilian and military facilities and installations, it explicitly states that the emissions from NATO-led operations and missions, and other activities such as training and exercises, are excluded.
No justification is given for this glaring omission, or indeed any estimate of the scale of GHG emissions that will go unreported, or not centrally recorded, as a result. Optimists may hope that this will be resolved in the next update to the methodology, or be covered by improved reporting by individual NATO members, more sceptical voices will rightly be vocal about this very substantial gap.
Even acknowledging the issues outlined above, this remains an important moment in efforts to close the military emissions gap. Absent a global standard for recording and reporting military emissions, subsequent updates of NATO’s methodology could prove influential as focus shifts to the UNFCCC as a forum to promote one. In this respect, it is vital that it evolves into something far more robust and coherent than its first draft. Not only for global efforts to accelerate military decarbonisation but also for NATO’s credibility as a climate actor.
Whilst the methodology’s publication is welcome, it arrived at a summit overshadowed by a deadly and destructive war, and its publication was followed by a week of record breaking weather and temperature extremes. When discussing climate action, NATO spokespeople are at pains to stress that its military capacity will always be the alliance’s priority – a clash of interests which many would argue is incompatible. This could explain why it’s taken two years for this methodology to even be published, but as the IPCC has made clear, climate action cannot wait.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is already estimated to have resulted in emissions equating to the annual output of Belgium, and the toxic geopolitics of militarism jeopardise global action on emissions. For the sake of its credibility as climate leader, NATO’s next moves on emissions mitigation must match the ambition needed to catch up on years of inaction and underreporting, as well as the pace of the rapidly deepening climate emergency.
CEOBS’ Environmental Policy Officer Linsey Cottrell has written an initial review of NATO’s methodology, and its Climate Impact Assessment and the Compendium of Best Practice, which you can find here.
Ellie Kinney is CEOBS’ Campaigner on military emissions.