Peace Magazine: Burning and Bombing: Military Expenditures, Military Emissions and the Climate Emergency

Peace Magazine

Burning and Bombing: Military Expenditures, Military Emissions and the Climate Emergency

By Tamara Lorincz • published Apr 01, 2020 • last edit May 27, 2020


Australia’s recent bushfires serve as a tragic example of misdirected security priorities and public spending. From June 2019 to February 2020, over 18 million hectares burned, tens of thousands of people were evacuated, thousands of homes were destroyed, millions of animals were killed and 33 people died in the worst wildfires on record in the Commonwealth.

Though the Government of Australia had been well-informed by scientists years ago, it was ill-prepared without enough fire fighters and aerial water tankers. Four years ago, the Australian National Aerial Firefighting Centre appealed to the central government to buy more water bombers, but it refused. Instead, the Australian government invested $17 billion for 72 new F-35 fighter jets.

In its most recent Strategy for Australia’s National Security, the Australian government did not even list climate change as one of the top security risks for the country. Instead the government has been chiefly concerned with terrorism, violent extremism and foreign interference. The Australian Defence Forces and the Department of Defence received an annual budget of $34.5 billion. Yet Australia’s Department of Environment and Energy that includes the Climate Change Authority received only $1.6 billion.

Two years ago, the Australian government announced a comprehensive plan to spend $200 billion over the next decade to modernise its defence capability and to provide greater support to its national aerospace and defence industries. Yet, it stopped making payments to the United Nations Green Climate Fund and blocked progress at the most recent UN climate summit. Moreover, the Climate Change Performance Index ranked Australia last out of 57 countries for its weak climate policies and lack of progress on emissions reduction.

Australia is a demonstrative case of the dire consequences of misplaced attention and resources on militarism instead of the climate emergency.

Military Expenditures

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) 2019 report, global military spending increased to $1.8 trillion. SIPRI noted that this is the highest level since the end of the Cold War. This level of defence spending is almost equivalent to the amount of money needed, according the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to meet the Paris Agreement target. In its 2018 special report, the IPCC explained that the annual average investment needed to de­carbonize energy systems worldwide was approximately $2 trillion (USD) every year until 2035 — an amount that represents about 2.5 percent of global GDP.

As shown in Figure 1, SIPRI ranked the United States as first for its defence budget of approximately US $650 billion, which is over 3.5 percent of GDP. This past December, Congress passed President Trump’s budget, which will further boost funding to the Department of Defense (DOD) to over $720 billion, while cutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lead federal agency on climate change, by 30 percent. The EPA’s annual budget is a mere $8 billion, according to the US Office of Management and Budget.

Worse, the DOD has not been fully audited and has not passed a clean audit in 30 years. The US Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) has put the military at the top of its High Risk List for fraud, abuse, and waste. In its 2019 spring report, the GAO stated: “DOD remains one of the few federal entities that cannot accurately account for and report on its spending or assets.” The climate change-denying Trump administration is increasing the budget of an unaudited department that is buying deadly weapons and fighting destructive carbon-intensive wars. And it has begun the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, claiming that it imposes an unfair economic burden on the US.

In its report Combat vs. Climate: The Military and Climate Security Budgets Compared, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a Washington DC-based think tank, estimated that the US government spent 28 times more on traditional military security than on climate security.

Further, the IPS explained that the government plans to spend $1.4 trillion on the F-35 fighter jets, the most expensive weapons program in history, rather than renewable energy and green jobs.

The SIPRI report shows that Canada has regrettably moved up the ranking and is now 14th highest in the world for military spending, just after Australia. According to the Public Accounts of Canada, the federal government spent $32 billion on the Department of National Defence (DND) but less than $2 billion on the Department of Environment and Climate Change (EC) in 2018.

Moreover, the Public Accounts archives reveal that, over the past two decades, the Canadian government has increased DND’s budget but EC’s budget has barely increased, though global warming has worsened.

The Liberal federal government expects to invest approximately $132 billion over 11 years for public transportation, green infrastructure and renewable energy. This is a fraction of the amount of planned spending for Canada’s military.

In June 2017 the federal government released its new defence policy Strong Secure Engaged, which allocated $553 billion to the Canadian military over the next two decades. DND will buy new fighter jets, armed drones and attack helicopters, build more warships, and recruit more soldiers to maintain “high-end warfighting.” There was no political opposition or dissent to the Liberals’ defence plan.

The future trends for military spending are grim. Under the 2014 Wales Summit Declaration, the 29 NATO members, including the US and Canada, committed to build up their defence budgets to 2% of GDP by 2024. At the current excessive levels for defence expenditures, the US is 3.5% and Canada is 1.2% of GDP. In 2016, Australia, which is not a member of NATO, pledged to spend 2% of GDP on its armed forces in its Defence White Paper. Moreover, last August, Australia signed a new partnership agreement with NATO?to cooperate more closely with the Alliance.

To reach this NATO target, military spending will grow significantly over the next decade, which is the same crucial period that the international community must drastically reduce carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change.

What is the military doing with all this public funding?

1. Bombing

Despite the prevailing national myth, the Canadian military is not a peacekeeping force. According to the latest UN Peacekeeping statistics, Canada is currently ranked 72nd in the world, with only 49 soldiers wearing the UN blue helmets. Australia is ranked 78th with 36 peacekeepers and the US, with the best financed military in the world is ranked 81st with only 31 peacekeepers. What the Canadian, American and Australian militaries are doing is warfighting.

These three countries conducted a brutal combat mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 that has killed at least 43,000 civilians, as well as devastating airstrikes against Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019. Over the past five years, in mission Operation Inherent Resolve, a US-led coalition including Australia and Canada dropped over 100,000 bombs in over 34,000 airstrikes to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Air Wars, a network of independent journalists based in the Middle East and the United Kingdom, estimated that over 8,000 civilians were killed.

As part of this operation, Canadian CF-18 fighter jets conducted over a thousand sorties in two years. Until January 2019, the Canadian Polaris air refuellers supplied 65 million pounds of fuel to coalition fighter jets, deploying deadly, carbon-intensive air power. In 2011, Canada led the NATO bombing of Libya that destabilized the country and led to a refugee and humanitarian crisis across North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. For the past six years, the Royal Canadian Air Force has flown fighter jets in Eastern Europe along Russia’s border.

Last July, the Canadian government opened a competition to replace its fighter aircraft fleet. It will spend $19 billion, not including life cycle costs, to buy 88 new fighter jets. In the running are SAAB’s Gripen multirole combat jet, Boeing’s Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter. Canada has already invested over $500 million to be part of the international consortium to develop the F-35. Its closest allies use them, so it is expected that Lockheed Martin will win the bid.

Early this year, Lockheed Martin put up posters at bus stops around Ottawa showing its stealth fighter with the caption “F-35: One pilot, thousands of jobs.” The ad fails to mention that it carries four to six missiles for killing and costs $58,000 per hour to operate. There is also no mention of its climate impacts. The F-35 has internal fuel capacity of 18,499 lbs and a maximum range of 1,199 nautical miles. It is extremely fuel inefficient, burning 2.37 gallons of fuel per mile and emitting 27.8 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent before refuelling. The F-35 emits more carbon in a long-range flight than a typical car emits in a year.

2. Military Emissions

Of the three military branches, it is the air force that uses the most fossil fuel, followed by the navy and army. To fly higher and faster, fighter jets use a specialized fuel called JP8 that is refined with more toxic chemicals than commercial aircraft. The navy’s destroyers and the army’s armoured vehicles are notoriously energy-inefficient. Three-quarters of the fuel used by the military powers its vehicles and one-quarter is for stationary buildings and bases.

The largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels on the planet is the US military. Last June, two significant reports were released about the Pentagon’s fuel consumption and climate impacts. In their article “Hidden carbon costs of the ‘everywhere war’: Logistics, geopolitical ecology and the carbon-bootprint of the US military” published in Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers, Belcher et al analyzed the bulk fuel purchase records of the US Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to map the military’s supply chain for hydro-carbon based fuels.

The authors describe a vast infrastructure to provide fossil fuel to US services worldwide. For example, the DLA has 230 bunker fuel contract locations in 51 countries and 506 into-plane fuel contract locations in 97 countries. In 2017, the DLA made 25,000 fuel shipments. The US military heavily relies on oil and uses very little renewable energy. They also explain how new weapon systems, such as advanced fighter jets, lock in carbon-intensive path dependencies for national defence.

Dr. Neta Crawford’s report, Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change and the Costs of War, looks at the publicly available fuel reports from the DLA over the past 16 years. During the US Global War on Terror, she estimated that the Pentagon emitted 1.2 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG). Its annual carbon emissions were 59 million metric tonnes of CO2 — higher than the emissions of Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. Crawford’s estimates for the US military’s carbon emissions do not include the emissions from all military activities, such as the production of cement and the destruction of cement in war.

On a per capita basis, the US military has a huge carbon “boot” print (see table 2). The average American soldier emits five times more than the average Swede. Energy for the Warfighter is the title of the US Department of Defense’s operational energy strategy. It ensures a steady supply of fuel to increase the soldier’s warfighting capabilities and decrease the vulnerabilities of fuel convoys from attacks in war zones.

Not only is the US military the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world, it is also one of the largest landholders. According to the US Base Structure Report for 2018, the Pentagon controls 585,000 facilities globally and covers almost 27 million acres. It has 4,150 sites across all 50 states in the US and 4,775 sites in 41 countries, including three installations in Australia and two in Canada.

The Pentagon is concerned about climate-induced extreme weather events wrecking its facilities, such as the hurricane that damaged Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in 2018 and the flooding of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 2019. However, it is not concerned about its excessive fossil fuel use, which is exacerbating global warming.

In Canada, the Department of National Defence (DND) is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuel in the federal government. DND is also one of the largest landholders in the country, managing almost five million acres of property, over 20,000 buildings, and 21 bases.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) manages the most land in their country: seven million acres, 25,000 buildings and 72 bases. Last November, the ADF ignited a bushfire from its live fire training at the Kokoda Barracks Field Training Area in Queensland. Like the military training areas in the US and Canada, the Kokoda Barracks are contaminated by heavy metals and hydrocarbons.

3. Exemptions for Military Emissions

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, every state party, including the US, Australia and Canada, must file a greenhouse gas inventory. However, these states do not have to fully and transparently account for their military emissions. In the 1990s, the US delegation lobbied for exemptions to international bunker fuels used by civilian and military aviation and shipping in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in the mid-1990s.

Prior to the negotiations in Japan, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen warned the White House that “We must not sacrifice our national security… to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” Cohen was supported by a group of former government officials and foreign policy analysts called the Committee to Preserve Security and Sovereignty (COMPASS). They mobilized to ensure that the military was exempted from any emission targets and lobbied the Senate not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The exemption for bunker fuels used in aviation, shipping and multilateral operations became operationalized in the 2006 reporting guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC). Those guidelines do encourage states to account for their military emissions but give allowances for aggregation, permissions for confidentiality, and exemptions for national security. Thus, the military does not have to reveal the totality of its emissions. The 2015 Paris Agreement does not explicitly exempt fuels used by the military, but it allows state parties to determine how they will reduce their GHG emissions.

In 2011, Canada’s CAF spent $533 million on petroleum products, including aviation fuel, ship’s fuel, diesel, heavy oil, gasoline and natural gas. Crawford reports that in 2017 the US military consumed 85 million barrels of fuel at a cost of $8 billion, but the Pentagon does not report its fuel consumption in its budget requests to Congress. Military emissions are excluded from the national greenhouse gas reduction targets in the US, Australia, and Canada. Emissions from bunker fuels used by the US military are excluded from the national transportation totals.

In 2017, Canada’s DND released its first Energy and Environment Strategy. It states that “the federal [GHG] reduction target will not include emissions from military activities and operations.”

That same year, Ottawa launched its plan to reduce emissions of the federal government. However, the only DND emissions in the national reduction target are for commercial vehicles and non-residential buildings in Canada — a small fraction of the military’s total carbon emissions.

Emissions from fighter jets, attack helicopters, frigates and other military vehicles are excluded from the national greenhouse reduction plans. This allows the military to pollute the atmosphere, a global commons. How can we rapidly reduce emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 if the biggest emitter in the government is excluded?

Demilitarization for Climate Justice

Military expenditures and emissions are impeding our progress in achieving the Paris Agreement to limit global mean temperature rise to 1.5°C. The UN Environment Pro­gramme has recently reported that Canada, Australia and the US are not on track to meet their targets.

By preventing deep decarbonization, military expenditures and emissions are fundamentally unethical and antithetical to climate justice.

The Paris Agreement called for climate justice and the consideration of ethical principles in climate policy-making: equity, transparency, just transition, international cooperation, environmental integrity and sustainable development.

In its 2017 Declaration of Ethical Principles in relation to Climate Change, UNESCO explained that ethics should guide the state decision-making to deal with the climate emergency. UNESCO also emphasized that the actions of governments should “do no harm.”

So how can Canada, Australia and the US spend billions of tax dollars on a new fleet of fighter jets that harm the atmosphere and harm people on the ground?

In its United in Science report, the IPCC explained that the international community must stay within a global carbon budget of approximately 420 – 570 billion tonnes of total net CO2 emissions. These are the remaining emissions that can be released into the atmosphere and still meet the Paris Agreement target. At the current global annual rate of emissions, that leaves us less than ten years to decarbonize.

To avert catastrophic climate change, we must demilitarize and disarm, in parallel with climate mitigation and adaptation. This means scaling down our militaries.

Combat-trained soldiers and fighter jets are not needed to deal with climate emergency. During the bushfires in Australia, it was fire fighters and water bombers that were needed. It was the Red Cross that set up evacuation centres.

Green New Deal

Military spending must be reduced and re-allocated to a Green New Deal and climate financing for developing countries. We also need a just transition from the carbon-intensive defence sector to conversion for a green, peace economy. In 2014, the British Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) released a report Arms to Renewables that showed how weapons manufacturers could be converted into renewable energy industries.

Five years ago, the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) launched a campaign “Demilitarize, Decarbonize. Stop the Wars, Stop the Warming”. We take our campaign banners to the climate strikes and rallies across the country to raise awareness about the military’s adverse impacts on the climate. We have also been lobbying politicians to let them know how military emissions and expenditures are preventing Canada from meeting our climate targets.

To create a social movement for change, VOW is partnering with Can­adian and American peace organizations to organize #CancelCANSEC — a major protest to shut down North America’s largest arms show in Ottawa from May 27th to 28th.

Tamara Lorincz is a PhD candidate at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, and a member of Voice of Women for Peace.


1 Belcher, Bigger, Neimark and Kennelly (2019) “Hidden carbon costs of the ‘everywhere war’: Logistics, geopolitical ecology and the carbon-bootprint of the US military”, Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers,

2 Crawford, N. (2019) “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change and the Costs of War,” Costs of War Project, Brown University:

3 Defence White Paper (2016) Department of Defence, Australia:

4 Defence Energy and Environment Strategy (2017) Department of National Defence, Canada:

5 Emissions Gap (2019) United Nations Environment Programme:

6 Energy for the Warfighter (2011) Department of Defense, United States:,%20Jun%2011.pdf

7 Greening Government (2019) Treasury Board, Canada:

8 Paris Agreement (2015) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,

9 Strong Secure Engaged (2017) National Defence, Canada:

10 United In Science (2019) World Meteorological Society:

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.36, No.2: Apr-Jun 2020
Archival link:
v36n2 issue cover


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