Militaries & Climate Change: The Case of Pakistan

At the COP26 summit, diplomats and leaders from all over the world gather to discuss climate change and boost momentum for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goal of the summit and the climate change debate as a whole is to limit and reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which are contributing to the steady rise in global temperature. Evaluation of how countries investing in military buildup are contributing to the deteriorating global climate is essential because military emissions are one GHG source. It is difficult to determine the extent to which the military contributes to global climate problems because there are not enough data on military emissions. However, the exponential growth of military budgets and the accumulation of resources to meet threats to national security suggest that military emissions will continue to rise worldwide. This does not exclude Pakistan, which has increased its defense budget by 6.2% for FY 2021-22 with an 11% increase to the Defense Production Division, which supports the country’s defense industry. Because of this, military emissions must be discussed in order to hold them accountable in the global race to zero.

Conflict and Climate Change The majority of military emissions are caused by burning fossil fuels to power equipment and base operations. This includes both military operations during peacetime and during war. In addition, the extraction of raw materials, arms production and procurement, the use of military equipment in operations, and decommissioning and end-of-life disposal (including military waste) are all carbon-intensive activities that require energy in the arms industry and supply chain. Military surplus like munitions, which are typically destroyed by detonation or burning in open pits, pollute the air, release greenhouse gases, and contaminate the land, make another contribution. Additionally, there is a paradoxical link between military GHG emissions and climate change. States are likely to turn to the military to address this instability as climate change becomes more deeply entwined with conflict—with adverse climate events like floods, droughts, extreme weather, rising sea levels, and others contributing to increased conflict risks. Pakistan is an important case study for the discussion of climate change and the role of militaries because it is both extremely vulnerable to climate change and has a military budget that accounts for about 20% of the country’s total expenditures.

Pakistan is an important case study for the discussion of climate change and the role of militaries because it is both extremely vulnerable to climate change and has a military budget that accounts for about 20% of the country’s total expenditures.

As a result of climate action measures implemented under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over time, Pakistan has made significant progress. Pakistan’s carbon emissions are expected to rise by 300 percent by 2030, despite the fact that it makes little contribution to global warming (only 0.8% of GHGs). In addition, Pakistan is ranked 18th out of 191 countries in the May 2021 “Climate Risk Country Profile” for climate change risk. By the end of this century, Pakistan’s average temperature is expected to rise significantly more than the global average by at least 2.7 degrees Celsius, putting Pakistan’s economy and society at risk.

Pakistan is increasingly recognizing that climate change is a national security issue that affects agriculture, industry, economic development, society, and gender security because the country is aware of its obligation to contribute to global efforts to mitigate its negative effects. Despite national efforts to mitigate its effects, Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is rising at a faster rate. To address the effects of climate change, a number of projects and goals are in place. However, there is a lack of progress. The connection between military activities and climate change is also crucially absent from general public discussion.

Adding Military Emissions to the Debate Pakistan’s full-spectrum deterrence strategy is founded on cutting-edge nuclear and conventional forces that are maintained at over forty military bases spread throughout the country. GHG emissions are a result of these bases’ operations, upkeep, and force posture. The burning of fossil fuels to operate and maintain this deterrence position is one of the main contributors. A gallon of diesel produces approximately 10.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide, an armored truck produces 260 kilograms of carbon dioxide per mission, and a combat aircraft like the F-35 emits 27,800 kilograms of carbon dioxide per mission, despite the lack of data on fuel requirements for military bases and equipment.

In addition, Pakistan remained one of Asia’s largest arms importers from 2016 to 2020, ranking tenth globally with a 2.7% share of major arms imports, according to a recent SIPRI report. Pakistan’s main exporters are China, Russia, and Italy. Additionally, Turkey has recently intervened with plans to co-produce military weapons with Pakistan. Despite the fact that this supply chain is far from carbon-free, these exporters have pledged to reduce emissions in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement. Unregulated shipping and aviation—both civil and military—could account for 40% of global GHG emissions by 2050, according to one estimate. This demonstrates that Pakistan’s military is a link in the arms supply chain that relies on carbon-intensive processes like manufacturing, shipping, and the actual use of imported military equipment.

Pakistan is a minor contributor to global GHG emissions caused by the military when compared to its arms exporters. However, a growing reliance on shipping and aviation can be seen in the Pakistan Navy’s transformation into the custodian of second-strike capability, the Karachi Naval Shipyard’s modernization, the existing naval fleet’s modernization and expansion, the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Pakistan Air Force’s expanded role in providing aerial defense and air support to expanding naval bases and stations. In turn, this implies that these industries will emit more greenhouse gasses. Additionally, the purchase of military equipment generates a carbon footprint; This includes combat aircraft, tanks, anti-tank missiles, surface-to-air missiles, Mi-35M helicopters, eight Hangor class conventional submarines, and other military weapons Pakistan is acquiring to strengthen its deterrence and prepare for conventional war.

Despite efforts to reduce military emissions, the scale of the problem necessitates social responsibility on the part of arms producers, buyers, and operators.

Pakistan’s steady expansion of its submarine fleet, which will include 11 SSKs equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) technology by 2023, could imply that the country is conscious of the emissions it produces from its military. Conventional submarines are able to last for longer thanks to this technology, which also maintains extremely low noise signatures and is relatively friendly to the environment. This includes the indigenously built PNS Hamza, which was outfitted with AIP technology in September 2008, the PNS Saad and PNS Khalid, which were retrofitted with AIP technology in 2011, and the eight submarines that China agreed to build for Pakistan, all of which are powered by AIP. However, military activities cannot be decarbonized immediately. For instance, Pakistani aircraft and naval vessels have a long lifespan, locking in carbon-intensive technology and delaying the possibility of decarbonization. For instance, a ship vessel’s estimated service life is either 20 years without an upgrade or 30 years with a major midlife upgrade. Similarly, the design life of a JF-17 fighter jet is estimated to be around 4,000 flights, or approximately 25 years. On the other hand, the design life of a Mirage aircraft is 1,500 flight hours, but Mirages have been in service for more than 4,000 flight hours. Condensation trails, or “contrails,” produced by military aircraft when they fly at high altitude also release nitrogen oxide, which contributes to climate change.

Military waste and surplus, in addition to the aforementioned potential GHG emissions, is another significant contributor. Due to a lack of publicly available data, it is impossible to determine how much military waste contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On the other hand, solid waste management—which includes chemical and hazardous waste—is difficult across the nation primarily because of a lack of national legislation, institutional capacity, and policy. A Disposal Wing within the Ministry of Defence Production is responsible for disposing of surplus military supplies.

Looking Ahead Despite efforts to reduce military emissions, the scale of the problem necessitates social responsibility on the part of arms producers, buyers, and operators. It is essential to develop stand-alone solutions to lessen the military’s carbon footprint and mitigate the effects of climate change on military activities. To begin, a global effort is required to convince states to include and report a target for reducing military emissions in their national climate change policy. This endeavor will begin on the basis of COP26. It is possible to learn from NATO’s most recent Climate Change and Security Action Plan, which outlines methods for measuring GHG emissions from military installations and activities.

Pakistan can not only demonstrate its accomplishments at the COP26 and beyond but also work to encourage states to begin considering military emissions in their debates and national targets, given its impressive track record in achieving the SDGs to mitigate climate change while maintaining GHG emissions, including military emissions, and increasing its vulnerability to climate change. Pakistan has the potential to lead this way. Additionally, Pakistan will need to build and implement collaborative decision-making, communication, and resource sharing among various national and international climate change stakeholders in order to build and implement national climate resilience. Pakistan should use emerging technologies to better understand climate change and implement global best practices in addition to a coordinated national effort. These measures will not only improve living conditions but also assist in preventing an irreversible climate catastrophe from affecting future military operations and generations to come.

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