Environment

Canada Still Doesn’t Know How Much Pollution Its Military Emits

Armies around the world are gearing up for a new era of climate instability, yet are not required to count their own overseas contributions.

by James Wilt
Mar 13 2017, 4:14pm

You'd certainly be forgiven for thinking the Liberals actually care about climate change.

Boy, have they put on a show. The First Ministers' meeting of early December showcased Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gently coaxing most premiers—save for babyfaced Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and slenderman Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister—into signing the Pan-Canadian Framework. The national climate plan included admirable commitments to a national carbon price, coal phase-out, net-zero building codes, clean fuel standard and regulations to reduce methane, and very nasty hydrofluorocarbons.

And this past Thursday night, Trudeau was awarded the "Global Energy and Environment Leadership Award" at a massive oil and gas trade show in Houston by one of the most famous energy authors in the world. The prime minister received multiple standing ovations and the key to the city; Trudeau's principal secretary gushed on Twitter: "In Houston, Texas. At an energy conference full of oil and gas companies. The world has changed folks."

Hell yeah. Good stuff. So good it could almost makes you forget about the approvals of those two huge oilsands pipelines back in December, which—if built—could lock in extremely unsustainable fossil fuel extraction for decades to come. They will also require billions of dollars of capital outflow to other jurisdictions via carbon trading to meet our international climate commitments.

And then there's the not-so-small problem that Canada doesn't count greenhouse gas emissions for any overseas operations conducted by its military.

That's right, any of them. Army, navy, air force.

All images from the National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces webpage.

That includes the 1,378 sorties conducted by CF-18 Hornets over Iraq and Syria for Operation IMPACT between October 2014 and February 2016, as well as the ongoing delivery of over 40 million pounds of fuel to the US led-coalition (the airstrikes, intended to slow ISIS, have allegedly killed at least 1,000 civilians).

The same with goes with all the fuel for the HMCS Saskatoon that's chuggin' around the Caribbean, the month-long Exercise Rim of the Pacific (which saw four ships, 10 aircraft and 1,500 personnel deployed to Hawaii), and military operations in the Ukraine, a campaign that was just renewed for another two years (which is in addition to operations in Poland and Latvia).

"All of this is by design," suggests Tamara Lorincz, author of the International Peace Bureau report "Demilitarization for Deep Decarbonization." "The exemptions and the opaqueness of military emissions is purposeful. We don't know very much about military emissions, and how we're accounting for them because they're hidden from the public."

Sure, not counting military emissions is the international norm. The United States—considered to be the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world—fought very hard for years to make sure that it didn't have to count military emissions on its national inventory. Every military lost a bit of ground with the Paris Agreement of late 2015, which concluded that countries no longer had an automatic exemption for military emissions. But that also meant that they could conveniently choose not to count such emissions; progress was to be made on a voluntary basis.

And that's exactly what Canada has done: continued to burn copious amounts of fuel overseas without actually having to own up to it in its own seemingly progressive-looking climate plan under the Young Prince.

The Department of National Defence simply doesn't keep track of overseas emissions. Queries about the subject are responded to with a bit of a virtual shrug. Even the domestic emissions that are counted are qualified with the warning that they have "not been verified for accuracy and completeness," and aren't disaggregated in the inventory beyond "operations" and "infrastructure."

"You won't find any substantial document about climate change on the Department of Defence's website," Lorincz says.

In the case of overseas operations, fuel and power for F-18s and trucks and buildings are often purchased in other jurisdictions. Given that transport-related emissions tend to be calculated via fuel sales, some suggest the burning of fossil fuels is technically being counted, but just not by the country that's responsible for choosing to drop bombs, fire artillery shells, or drive infantry to the nearby shooting range.

"All of those emissions would go onto the inventory of the country that the bases are in," says Dale Marshall, national program manager for Environmental Defence. "To me, that's not a good enough reason to not be counting them or trying to reduce them. But the fact that they're on someone else's books reduces the incentive, certainly."

Lorincz disputes the point, noting that many countries that Western militaries fight in and receive oil from don't actually prepare comprehensive greenhouse gas inventories or reports to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In addition, exemptions for large amounts of military fuel use render the counts laughable at best.

Either way, it results in the same key concern: if Canada is burning an enormous amount of fuel in another jurisdiction to accomplish perceived goals, it should have to account for it and cut domestic emissions or military operations in sync. Otherwise, it's offloading responsibility for such reductions to other—and often poorer—countries, allowing Canada to do things like approve new pipelines and bolster its own future economic prospects.

Keeping emissions off the domestic count also makes increased funding to military operations and equipment a lot of more palatable from a climate point of view, given that Canada can effectively maintain its reputation for being an environmental saviour while buying up lots of new and very fuel-intensive machinery.

Canada spent $28 billion on National Defence in 2015-16. That's compared to $1.5 billion for the Environment and Climate Change, and $1.4 billion for Indigenous and Northern Affairs. US President Donald Trump's putting the pressure on fellow NATO countries to boost military spending, however Canada hasn't made any moves to increase its expenditure just yet.

Then there's the lingering issue of replacing aging fighter jets—which could require over $10 billion for procurement—as well as another $40 billion for new warships. As Lorincz points out, there hasn't been a single MP who has publicly questioned the climate impacts of new fighter jets, or the military at large. She adds that such investments would also commit a large chunk of capital that could otherwise be directed to the infrastructure and research required for the rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

There's a cruel irony to this all. Nick Buxton, co-editor of The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World, says many militaries take a very long-term view and are planning for "very dystopian scenarios" as a result of climate change, including resource conflicts and mass migrations. It can become a justification of sorts for continued investments in the military, he says.

"Climate change is the threat multiplier that will make everything worse," he says. "The more you put money into this area, the more you will default to security-based responses to any social or environmental conflict or crisis."

In other words, militaries are pouring massive amounts of pollution into the atmosphere without having to really account for it, giving added rationale for why they should have even more carbon-intensive machinery for future conflicts caused by that very process.

Canada's very much part of that process. There's an easy fix, according to critics: count the emissions that its military burns overseas, and take measures to reduce domestic emissions or military operations accordingly. Oh, and also own up to the fact that we only have around 790 gigatonnes in our collective "carbon budget" left and plan accordingly.

"The rest of society has to think to ourselves: is it OK with us that the military can continue burning fossil fuels anyway that it likes?" Lorincz asks. "And are we really going to be able to stabilize the climate and save the planet allowing that? I don't think that's possible or reasonable."

"Can we really save the climate if we're not dealing with the biggest culprit?"

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