War is hell, And it’s very energy-intensive. Fighter jets whizzed past Ukraine and tanks rolled on the country’s land, burning a stream of fuel. There are also troop carriers, support trucks, humming generators and burning infrastructure on bases — all of which spew clouds of carbon into the atmosphere.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear humanitarian crisis as its military intensifies its attacks on civilians. But a hidden crisis is also unfolding: the carbon emitted by war machines is helping to warm the planet at a pivotal moment in human history, and every day that goes without decarbonization is adding to the pain of climate change.
The 40-mile convoy of Russian vehicles outside Kyiv has been crawling, burning gasoline. Military vehicles deliver a steady stream of supplies to Ukraine — one of the largest and fastest arms transfers in history. If Eastern European countries now patrol their borders more with the help of the United States, they will consume more fuel. “Jet fuel is by far the dirtiest emissions,” said Durham University political scientist Oliver Belcher. “It’s a much more powerful polluter just by the type of fuel it’s using, but most importantly, the amount of fuel it burns is staggering.”
In this particular war, however, it has so far been difficult to calculate exactly how much carbon is being emitted. For one thing, many of the statistics available on military emissions come from studies of the United States and the European Union, not Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, getting data on the fuel use of the armed forces is the most straightforward way to estimate emissions, but it doesn’t paint the full picture. (For example, the Paris Agreement does not require militaries to report their emissions, so researchers must make estimates with sparse data.)
But there are ways to understand environmental damage.Last year, commissioned by left-wing groups in the European Parliament, the Observatory on Conflict and Environment began work on estimating the carbon footprint or carbon footprint. bootYou can print the military branch of the EU if you wish. Crucially, they also took into account indirect emissions—for example, those from defense industry supply chains that support military operations. Producing missiles and ammunition requires energy, and then you have to use more energy to deliver the cargo.
There are inherent data gaps, but the Observatory’s researchers estimate that the EU’s military emissions in 2019 were equivalent to those of 14 million cars.That is forward The African continent faces its largest land war since 1945. “That’s a pretty conservative estimate,” said Linsey Cottrell, the charity’s environmental policy officer and co-author of the report. “As military spending increases, so does the associated greenhouse gas emissions.”
Meanwhile, in 2017, the U.S. military bought 270,000 barrels of oil one day, making it the largest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons. (It is undoubtedly the largest military on the planet—three times as expensive as China, followed by largest. Russia is fourth.) If the U.S. military were its own nation-state, it would be the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases According to a 2019 analysis by Belcher, the world’s gas emissions only consider emissions from fuel use. The U.S. Air Force alone is responsible for more than half of these emissions, both because planes have poor mileage, and because emitting carbon at high altitudes causes warming four times as much as emissions on the ground.
Quantifying war emissions is not as easy as calculating how much fuel the military burns when the vehicles are operating normally. What happens when these vehicles are blown up is also important. After the conflict, the researchers had to count how much carbon was burned from the burning fuel and ammunition of the destroyed tanks.
Large-scale movements of populations during wartime also require energy. So far, some 2 million people have been evacuated from Ukraine by train and bus. “You have all the extra humanitarian peacekeeping — you have the movement of refugees across the country,” Cottrell said.