Ukraine has made the world think about conflict emissions but the military’s contribution is still invisible for many.
A month on from COP27, Ellie Kinney reflects on her time in Sharm El-Sheikh. Ellie landed at the COP with our newly published policy brief, and with a mission to advocate for better reporting of military greenhouse gas emissions.
Conflict emissions and the invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ran through the conference as much as any major theme. Whether in conversations at side events discussing the impact of the conflict on energy and food supplies, or Ukraine’s solemn pavilion, which brought an oak trunk laced with shrapnel from Irpin to the 30,000 attendees. While Russia attempted to greenwash its way through the conference, which in turn was met with protests from Ukrainian delegates, Ukraine used the COP to highlight the impact of the conflict on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
Using a new methodology, researchers have estimated that the emissions for the first seven months of the invasion totalled 100 m tCO2e. This is equivalent the total emissions of The Netherlands for the same period. This is the first time that the emissions from an active conflict have been estimated in this way, and it received considerable media interest. The story was picked up by the The Guardian and Bloomberg and many others, revealing a shift in media interest about military emissions, which in turn could lead to greater public awareness.
Shining the spotlight on military emissions
Inside the conference, military emissions were a topic of a formal side event for the first time. The event, co-hosted by Ukraine to launch the new methodology, discussed how the issue of military emissions can be progressed within the UNFCCC. Alongside authors of the methodology, the event featured speakers from governments of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, as well as Axel Michaelowa from Perspectives Climate Group and Deborah Burton, Co-Founder of Tipping Point North South.
A second event, No War, No Warming: Demilitarization and Climate Justice, was co-hosted by Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricutores y Ganaderos. It featured a coalition of speakers who also held a stall within the Blue Zone to promote climate, gender and racial justice, demilitarisation, and a just transition. It was a welcome breath of radical air in a space that more closely resembled a corporate trade fair than a hub of the climate movement.
Addressing the elephant in the room
We were keen to draw attention to military emissions as the elephant in the room in relevant side events. At the launch of UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap report, delegates heard from Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, and Simon Stiell, the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary, as well as from the report’s lead authors. Each issued a dramatic and urgent call to action, led by the data in the report: the world must cut emissions by 45% to avoid global catastrophe. The report offers a broad look at global emissions trends and then focuses in on electricity supply, industry, buildings and transportation.
However, the report fails to mention the impact of emissions from military activities or warfighting. It’s a stark contrast to go from Ukraine equating the emissions output of the invasion to that of whole countries, only for this to be glossed over within the report which states: ‘In the short term, abrupt geopolitical and economic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine can lead to significant but temporary changes in annual emissions’.
Whilst the report does list the inability to consider the potential implications of the war in Ukraine within its emissions projections as a methodology limitation, it was disappointing to not hear this reflected on within the presentations and panel discussion. We gave the panel the opportunity to rectify this, and asked whether there would be plans to include the climatic impact of military activities, which is currently estimated at 5.5% of global emissions, within future Emissions Gap reports. The answer was brief and disappointing, “probably not”.
The role of civil society
At a side event organised by adelphi and the German Federal Foreign Office, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock spoke about the Climate for Peace Initiative. Joined by the Climate Envoy for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, UNEP Small Island Developing States programme and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, the event gave a fascinating insight into the realities of the climate crisis as a driver of conflict and instability. When we asked whether Germany would consider addressing its significant underreporting of military emissions, the minister’s response strayed from the issue of reporting into how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a €100 bn increase in military spending.
Whilst COP27 undoubtably marked progress in the level of attention that military emissions receive, this response demonstrates the need for this attention to flow through to the political level in order to even begin productive conversations with ministers. The response on military spending was followed by an important contribution from Michelle Benzing of WILPF Germany, on the EU’s increasing militarisation of borders. This is undoubtably relevant when considering how even limiting warming to 1.5oC will result in increasing numbers of climate refugees forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather or instability, particularly from across Africa and small island states.
Together, the questions sent a clear message to the panellists and event attendees that the intersection between the climate crisis and peace and security goes far deeper than politicians are sometimes willing to explore. It’s important that COP continues to be a place where civil society can highlight this.
Protest and human rights
Given the Egyptian government’s track record on human rights, there was understandably much concern internationally that this would stifle activism at COP27. The Green Zone, an area separate to the official Blue Zone but still requiring accreditation to access, was billed as ‘the platform where business community, youth, civil and indigenous societies, academia, artists and fashion communities from all over the world can express themselves and their voices would be heard’.
Whilst positive reports had come from some campaigners visiting the area in the first week, our visit in the week two reflected the suspicions of the international NGO community. The area was almost entirely empty of delegates, and filled instead with deserted corporate stalls representing airlines, electric car manufacturers and Egyptian government departments. In the Blue Zone, the official area where side events and negotiations took place, protests from campaign groups were present but small, occupying what seemed to be a designated area by the main entrance.
This is by no means a reflection on the dedicated campaigners who were forced to prioritise creativity and noise over numbers, as well as manage the threat that straying from official guidelines could have resulted in arrest. With COP28 taking place in the UAE, the same concerns over civil society participation will remain thanks to the country’s stance on protests and activism.
An opportunity (for a price)
One overarching takeaway from COP27 was the opportunity that it presents organisations to interact with often remote institutions and policy makers. However, this comes with the caveat that many found themselves priced out of attending. Based on informal conversations with government defence staff at COP27, it’s likely that more governments will start to send representatives from their defence ministries, especially from countries that have already highlighted climate change within their defence strategies.
It is therefore hugely important that as civil society we are prepared to use this opportunity to engage directly with decision makers, and influence how that conversation develops. This could be through hosting more side events focusing on military emissions, giving speakers with an expertise in this area the chance to appear on panels, and engagement with delegates in the run up to COP28. COP27 marked a hugely important moment of progress and it’s vital that we continue to build on this.
We are building a coalition of coalition of organisations campaigning for better reporting of military emissions. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellie Kinney is CEOBS’ Campaigner. Our thanks to Zoï Environment Network for allowing her to join their COP27 delegation.