By Ellie Shackleton

Abstract: There is an issue within the issue of military greenhouse gas emissions: those of arms manufacturers. While complete disarmament may not be politically viable in the short term, arms manufacturers must be held to a higher standard when it comes to reporting and cutting their emissions.

The issue of military greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) does not receive nearly as much attention as it deserves, but the carbon footprint of military production is even more overlooked. As is the case with the military at large, arms manufacturers are not legally required to disclose their GHG emissions, and there is a large disparity in how they are reported (though that may soon change). Not only that, but while these companies have pledged to lower some types of emissions, other types are continuing to rise. Arms manufacturers essentially regulate themselves when it comes to these emissions, and there is no outside institution that holds them accountable. This gap in reporting arms industry greenhouse gas emissions should be addressed in two ways: adding environmental considerations to existing arms trade agreements, and committing arms manufacturers to provisions within international climate agreements.

Thus far, the number of emissions are stunning. According to the Conflict and Environment Observatory, the largest arms dealers provided heavy GHG emissions in 2020: Lockheed Martin Corporation had 33 megatons, Airbus Group had 444 megatons, Raytheon (RTX) had 12.7 megatons, and Northrop Grumman Corporation had 0.4 megatons. Over the past two years, some of the numbers have remained relatively similar, while some have continued to increase. Lockheed Martin reports approximately 30 megatons of GHG emissions for 2022. For that same year, Raytheon reports approximately 23.5 megatons, Airbus Group reports approximately 506 megatons, and Northrop Grumman Corporation reports 0.7 megatons. Airbus Group likely has such high emissions because of manufacturing commercial aircraft that produce more emissions than standard weapons; the other manufacturers mentioned have a higher percentage of their sales devoted to weapons, and as a result have far fewer tons of GHG emissions. However, this difference between civilian aircraft and weapons should not discount the larger point: arms companies are producing massive amounts of GHGs.

Additionally, many of these manufacturing companies have Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies, which include goals for lowering emissions. For example, Lockheed Martin states their goal as having 36% lower GHG emissions by 2030 than they had in 2020, and 40% usage of renewable electricity across all operations. One thing to note here is that the GHG emissions in these goals are usually aimed at lowering direct emissions that the organization reports. For example, some GHG emissions that are reported are those that are from organizational activities, such as those associated with vehicles or facilities that an organization operates. Another type of GHG emission that organizations are aiming to lower are those from energy usage. This may sound reasonable, as organizations are only responsible for emissions that they produce or use. However, there is a third type of emission which is indirect, and that is from products that an organization sells, or from goods that they purchase. The former is something that an organization can control with new technology and proper procedures. These types of emissions are often underreported, which is why organizations can claim to be lowering their emissions. It’s also why we see a rise in the emissions of these arms manufacturers, since they may be lowering their own emissions but not those of the products they make.

A lot of arms are traded both legally and illegally, also producing greenhouse gas emissions of their own. Firearms, when used, produce carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Explosive weapons, such as bombs and mines, also produce carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. These gases are an important part of arms manufacturers’ indirect emissions, precisely the ones that aren’t part of ESG policies or goals. Additionally, not only do arms and arms manufacturers adversely affect the environment, but climate change can also cause damage to arms. Because of rising temperatures, explosive weapons and other arms are at risk of destabilizing and ultimately detonating. This usually happens when temperatures are at their highest, in the late spring and summer months. These detonations result in preventable deaths, damage to nearby environments and civilian infrastructure, and a literal explosion of GHGs. Thus, arms manufacturing and climate change becomes a closed circle cycle of emissions and environmental disruptions.

How can we prevent further climate deterioration and GHG emissions by the arms sector? As I have discussed previously, militaries themselves must be held accountable for their GHG emissions, and required to provide increased transparency on them. However, this has yet to occur at a Conference of Parties (COP). The most constructive and effective way to reduce military emissions is through arms reduction and disarmament. Disarmament has important environmental benefits, including: reducing military GHG emissions (which currently includes those of arms manufacturers); protection of water and land resources; saving civilian lives; and benefiting communities that rely on the environment to survive (e.g., farmers, fishers, etc.). Unfortunately, this scenario is unlikely, as many countries who emit the most GHGs also rely heavily on military strength and preparedness, and thus on arms manufacturers. In the absence of disarmament, data from arms manufacturers should be disaggregated from the larger military GHG emissions. These companies should also be subject to climate agreements, or at the very least have climate or environmental provisions in arms-governing international agreements. Currently, treaties that govern the trade and sales of arms (such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)) mention the environment, climate, or GHG emissions very little, if at all. None of these treaties have been updated in accordance with new climate agreements. Furthermore, the arms industry has shown that they should not be regulating themselves (as is evidenced by their growing overall emissions), and thus the need for outside enforcement. In short, arms manufacturers themselves must be party to climate agreements, or at least have greater climate provisions in international arms trade agreements. In the long-term, disarmament must be the goal so that we can continue to save lives and protect the environment.

Ellie Shackleton currently works in philanthropy in New York. Her main areas of interests are in environmental security, environmental peacebuilding, conflict analysis, and the arms trade. She has written previously on military emissions, a reaction to COP-28, and the weaponization of nature. She has also contributed to two policyreports on environmental issues. You can find her on LinkedIn.

Article or Event Link
Apr 13, 2024
Public Policy


Public Policy

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