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NATO’s Military Spending Exacerbates Climate Crisis

On the 75th anniversary of NATO, a new study has revealed that the alliance’s military spending contributes to climate crisis.

According to researchers from three international research and advocacy groups, military spending increases greenhouse gas emissions, shifts critical finance away from climate action, and boosts arms trade that inflames instability during climate breakdown.

Increased Military Spending

In the study, researchers from the UK-based Transnational Institute (TNI) and Tipping Point North South, and the Netherlands’ Stop Wapenhandel pointed out that NATO’s overall military spending in 2023 amounted to $1.34 trillion, an increase of $126 billion in one year.

This produces an estimated 233 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas. Moreover, the study estimated that the military spending increase of $126 billion in 2023 will lead to an additional 31 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Biggest Spenders

NATO is currently responsible for 55% of total global military spending. The US is the biggest NATO’s military spender, accounting for more than two-thirds of the bloc’s total spending. It is followed by the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Canada and Spain.

In 2023, the US, Poland, the UK and Germany saw the biggest spending increases, with military budgets increases of $16 billion, $10.9 billion and $10.7 billion, respectively. Also, average proportion of military expenditure on equipment grew from 25.5% to 27.3%, with the largest increases in Finland and Poland.

As a result, the military carbon footprint of 8 NATO members increased by over one million CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). These states are the US, Poland, Germany, the UK, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands and France. So far, the US military is the largest institutional greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

High Emissions

Military equipment remains highly dependent on fossil fuels. Hence, it is highly emitting. Combat aircraft, such as F-35, consumes large amounts of fossil fuels. The aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, predicts NATO will deploy more than 600 of F-35s by 2030.

As the lifetime span of the aircraft is 30 to 40 years, this means the bloc will keep highly-polluting systems for many years to come. This contradicts NATO’s commitment to mitigate climate change and its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Global Necessity

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world needs to reduce emissions by 43% in all sectors by 2030 to be able to keep global average temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means annual military emissions need at least 5% reduction.

However, Nick Buxton, from the TNI, told the Guardian: “By 2030, we have to make a radical cut in emissions. But the biggest investment we’re making worldwide, and in particularly NATO, is in military spending, which isn’t just not addressing the problem, but actually worsening the problem.”

The study noted that the increase in NATO’s military spending in 2023 could fully cover the minimal climate financing that developing countries demanded in UN climate negotiations this year.

Spending Target

If all NATO members meet the target of 2% minimum GDP spending on the military, by 2028 this will create a total estimated collective military carbon footprint of 2 billion tCO2e, the study said.

Furthermore, NATO’s additional military spending, estimated at $2.57 trillion, would be enough to cover the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates for the climate adaptation costs for low- and middle-income countries for seven years.

Researchers pointed out that the biggest winners from the increase in military spending are arms manufacturers, which are poised to make significant profits in the coming years as a result of NATO’s initiatives and plans to support the arms industry. Meanwhile, some environmental safeguards are pushed aside when they are considered as barriers to increasing production.

In conclusion, the study warned that increased arms trade will lead to a more militarized world at a time of climate breakdown, inflaming wars and conflict and compounding the impact of climate change for the most vulnerable.

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