Climate Change: Rethinking the Footprint of Military Operations and Destruction

News | February 04, 2020

On January 29, the EastWest Institute (EWI) hosted a roundtable discussion with Ali Borhani, managing director of 3Sixty Strategic Advisors, on “Climate Change: Rethinking the Footprint of Military Operations & Destruction: The Role, Weight and Responsibility of Conflicts and How to Prevent Them.” The discussion was moderated by EWI’s Vice President of the Middle East and North Africa program Kawa Hassan.

Borhani opened the discussion by pointing to a void in the debate on climate change where most attention centers on the carbon footprint of industries and much less is given to armed conflict. He explained the undeniable consequences of wars and the impact of foreign military interventions that result in the destruction of infrastructure, outlining the climate costs of mobilizing military assets and personnel overseas—the value chain of which includes the movement of manpower, millions of tons of hardware and equipment, food supplies and related services. The primary, secondary and tertiary carbon footprint of destruction is embedded throughout the demolition of infrastructure, industry and housing, cities and countries. Furthermore, the use of airspace above conflicted areas is radically constrained, increasing the use of jet fuel to bypass these geographies. Lastly, Borhani pointed to the carbon footprint of attending to and dealing with migration and refugee crises caused by conflict.  

Borhani believes it is necessary to make the whole value chain of this carbon footprint accountable by requiring actors to compensate for their effect on the climate. He suggests the need for a model that measures the carbon footprint which can then be translated into clear and tangible, preventive financial measures. If the carbon footprint is emphasized in the public eye, it is possible to minimize, mitigate and prevent future conflicts.

Although Borhani’s suggestion resonated with the audience, several participants posed challenges to the model, particularly the political will needed to institutionalize and implement such an accountability system, highlighting the paradigm shift that will be required for widespread adoption by the defense sector. Others pointed to the danger such a model could present to the legitimization of conflicts, either by militaries presenting their operations as "climate friendly," or simply by paying off their carbon emission. In response, Borhani acknowledged the necessity of having an entity not dissimilar to the World Trade Organization, perhaps a WEO (World Emissions Organization), which can monitor the carbon footprint of conflicts and military interventions and hold the responsible states and actors accountable.

Borhani affirmed that his proposal should be considered as an unconventional and innovative solution. He states that it is most important to ensure that the carbon footprint of military operations and the climate impact of war and conflict-related destructions are on the agenda. To that end, Borhani believes that the 26th session of the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26)—expected to take place from November 9-19, 2020 in Glasgow, UK—should take this proposal into serious consideration, debate and discussion as part of its main agenda.  

Click here to listen to the Business Families Foundation's "Round Peg Podcast" on the subject: “Climate Change: The Untold Story of the Carbon Footprint of Destruction & Conflicts."

The old city of Homs, pictured in February 2016. (Image credit: AP)