Towards the end of last year, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held from 31 Oct-12 Nov 2021 in Glasgow UK. Analysts assert that COP26 did not yield much on substantially increasing State’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – levels of carbon emissions that States pledge to achieve by a given time. Although 120 States parties have given updated NDCs with relatively more ambitious goals, it is believed that achieving the 1.5°C warming rate, set under the Paris agreement, remains elusive. The Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP) – the political outcome of the COP26 meeting – calls upon States to further strengthen their NDCs.
Although the effectiveness of even 1.5°C targets is questioned, just a 0.5 °C higher and 10 million people will lose their homes to rising seas, 2 million square kilometers of permafrost will be lost, 50% more people will face water scarcity, and 50% more species will lose half of their geographic range. Consequently, it will affect how States have traditionally viewed national and international security. In a welcome sign, the GCP also vowed reductions in fossil reliance which is arguably the greatest source of carbon emissions and global warming.
Climate Change & Militaries
In the run-up to COP26, some studies highlighted the role of militaries in environmental degradation and call upon States to reduce their military spending. Military-industrial complexes, peace-time preparations, and war-time operations are all carbon-intensive processes. In a study, the carbon boot-print of the military, Dr Stuart Parkinson presents military production (raw materials, supply chain and final assembly), military bases (energy use, food, waste management) and vehicle use (land vehicles, aircraft, marine vessels); as the three components of military’s carbon boot-print. While these are only peacetime activities, wars and conflicts incur an even greater cost for the environment including destruction, reconstruction, mass migrations, increased production to feed the war machinery etc.
South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. It is also a hotbed of wars, conflicts, crises, outstanding disputes and burgeoning military advancements. South Asia already the world’s most populated region, can face 50-125 million direct fatalities in case of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Moreover, it could jeopardize the whole planet through sharp drops in temperature and precipitation – in turn, devastating the world’s food supply.
Even under peacetime circumstances, World Bank estimates that the region could suffer economic losses of 161 billion USD by 2030 and could cause 40 million people to become climate migrants. In South Asia, India remains the largest emitter of carbon and is number three in the global rankings and is also the third-largest military spender. While India has committed that it will reduce carbon emissions to a net zero by 2070, its continued investments in fossil-based power generation and ever-increasing military might indicate otherwise.
Climate Action Tracker rates India’s climate targets and policies as “highly insufficient” because Indian policies are not conducive to achieving Paris Agreement’s goals. India’s coal-fired power plant pipeline is the second largest in the world and is one of the few to have increased since 2015. India’s National Electricity Plan of 2018 projects the addition of more than 45 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2027, and a recent report from the Central Electricity Authority shows that in 2029-30 India’s coal fixed electricity production capacity will be increased by 64 GW above 2021 levels. With these increasing investments in coal-based power plants, which are both inefficient and environmentally hazardous, Indian seriousness towards climate change seems questionable.
With 72.9 billion USD military spending in 2020, India retains the third spot with a global military spending share of 3.7% according to SIPRI estimates. Lowy Institute projects India’s military budget to rise as high as 186 billion USD by 2030 i.e. over a 250% increase by current budgeting allocations. It is unknown how India will bring its military modernization in line with its stated objective of achieving zero emissions by 2070. India currently has 4,614 battle tanks in its military. Last year, India approved the procurement of 118 Arjun Mark 1-A tanks. Moreover, the Indian military is set to procure 1700 Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCVs) by 2030.
Continued investments in such military hardware indicate that India will manufacture military hardware (where the manufacturing and production process itself is carbon-intensive) and operate this huge inventory of tanks which will be again fossil-dependent and have a significant carbon footprint. For reference, the U.S.’ Abram A-1 main battle tanks entered service in 1980 and are still in use. However, Indian FRCVS will be operational in 2070 shaming Indian zero emissions pledge.
India’s aircraft industry and inventory are carbon emissions-intensive
It currently operates 2,182 military aircraft. Only a few months ago, India signed a contract for supply of 56 C-295 military transport aircraft. Indian Air Force is also eyeing acquisition of another 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft – besides acquisition of Defence Research and Development Organization’s 83 Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas. These ballooning numbers defeat the goal of reducing carbon emissions.
Likewise, Indian Navy is also swiftly modernizing its sea-based firepower. Indian Navy currently operates 17 submarines. It is in the process of acquiring six new diesel-electric submarines. It is also in the process of acquiring 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) beside another 123 Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH) to be used as ship-borne flights for its frontline destroyers and frigates. These ambitious military developments in the naval domain affect India’s “zero-emissions” pledge.
Military forces around the world significantly add to greenhouse gas emissions and place animal and plant life in peril. U.S. military is a top contributor to climate crisis and the Indian military follows closely. The States with the biggest militaries must realize the potential hazards.
Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC appears to be an appropriate forum to build global pressure along with calls by Conflict and Environment Observatory to urge such countries to reduce their militaries’ greenhouse emissions. Since India seeks to bring greenhouse emissions to zero by 2070, it must walk its talk.
The writer is a Mumbai-based practitioner of conflict and climate change and can be reached at email@example.com