COP28 fails to take cognizance of the impact of militarization on climate change 

F 16s at Incirlik
U.S. F-16s at Incirlik Photo credit: U.S. government

It is welcome that over 80000 participants from around the globe have gathered in Dubai to deliberate on the strategies to mitigate the climate crisis which if not checked would be catastrophic. The event is happening at a time when just at a distance of 2600 kilo meters an appalling humanitarian crisis is unfolding as a result of bombing on the innocent civilians by the Israel in Gaza. This has killed over 16000 Palestinians of which 70 % are women and children and it has caused total destruction of the infrastructure making the people homeless. 

Any military activity adds to the climate crisis. It is by now well known that the military activity is estimated to contribute 5.5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the recent years we have witnessed substantial increase in the military spending worldwide. Presently it is higher than ever. In 2022 world military expenditure rose to $2240 billion out of which $82.9 billion were spent on nuclear weapons alone.


The reporting on military expenditure by the governments is always a secret matter and there is no transparency in reporting the military related activities for the ‘security reasons’. Dr Stuart Parkinson and Linsey Cottrell of the Scientists for Global Responsibility and Conflict and the Environment Observatory respectively, in a study ‘Estimating the Military’s Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ point out that If the world’s militaries were a country, this figure would mean they have the fourth largest national carbon footprint in the world – greater than that of Russia (1). Researchers found that the first 12 months of war in Ukraine accounted for 119 million tons of CO2, as much as Belgium produced in the same period. 

This emphasises the urgent need for concerted action to be taken both to robustly measure military emissions and to reduce the related carbon footprint – especially as these emissions are very likely to be growing in the wake of the war in Ukraine and Israeli aggression in Gaza.  

It is therefore imperative that disarmament should have taken a front seat during the deliberations at COP28. The last COP27 failed to issue any statement on disarmament and it appears that similar end result will be there this time too. However this time some organisations including the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) made it a point to highlight this issue, if not in the main forum, at least on the side lines among the participants.  

It is strange that a declaration was adopted at the COP28 calling upon the nations to reduce their green-house gas emissions in health sector swiftly, sustainably and substantially (2). This has happened when as compared to 5.5% of total emissions by the military activity there is generation of 4.4% by the global health care sector. Whereas the military activity is meant to kill, the health care sector is to sustain life.  

The IPPNW has further warned that continuation of wars could threaten the use of nuclear weapons which would be catastrophic (3). A study, “Climate Consequences of Regional Nuclear War” by Ira Helfand former Co-President International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Alan Robock from the Department of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University, USA has pointed out that the present nuclear weapons present on  earth pose a serious risk to climate and thus risk to all life forms.  A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using 100 Hiroshima size nuclear weapons would put two billion people at risk; Any Nuclear exchange between the major nuclear powers could be end of modern civilization built through thousands years of human labour.  Soot and debris injected into the atmosphere from the explosions and resulting fires would block sunlight from reaching the Earth, producing an average surface cooling of -1.25º C that would last for several years.  Even 10 years out, there would be a persistent average surface cooling of -0.5ºC.  This will reduce rainfall globally by 10% and lead to crop failure further leading to  starvation and deaths. 

It is therefore important that the COP28 should give a call for complete abolition of nuclear weapons and promote negotiations to encourage the nuclear weapons possessing countries to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 

When there are talks of shifting to non-fossil fuel sources of energy, there is a lobby within the COP28 which speaks on the importance of nuclear energy. This is a false and dangerous narrative.  Nuclear power is no solution to climate change; it has serious health consequences and increases the risk of nuclear proliferation (4). Nuclear power is expensive and unreliable, is losing importance relative to overall electricity production, lags behind renewables in terms of cost-effectiveness and output and is hence out dated. Therefore it is required that the world ceases the creation of new nuclear power plants, enact the rapid phase-out of nuclear energy generation, and shift to a just renewable energy transition.  

We need to cut emissions by half by 2030 to stay within the 1.5 degree limit and thereby ensure planetary and human health. UN Secretary General’s video message on Glaciers from the Mount Everest Region “We must act now to protect people on the frontline and to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, to avert the worst of climate chaos” speaks of billions of peoples voice around the world who knowingly and unknowingly are being adversely affected as a result of climate crisis. “This is a sickness only you, global leaders, can cure,” he said, calling on the leaders to end the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and to fulfil the long overdue promise for climate justice.  

That on the opening day of COP28 delegates reached a deal on the operationalization of a fund for loss and damage to help the world’s most vulnerable countries pay for the devastating impacts of climate disaster is welcome step to an extent.  This is however not the final solution. This leaves lacuna for developed countries to move ahead but leaves the developing world behind in the race of development for its own citizens.  

The global arms race threatens health and the climate. Disarmament and demilitarisation can help finance climate mitigation. Cooperation and human security should be at the center of politics and decision-making. The COP28 should at least form a commission to discuss the issue in details for the COP29.

Dr Arun Mitra is a Practicing ENT Surgeon in Ludhiana, Punjab. He is also the President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) www.idpd.org 

References: 

  1. SGRCEOBS-Estimating_Global_MIlitary_GHG_Emissions_Nov22_rev.pdf 
  2. Explained: Why India Refused To Sign the Climate & Health Declaration at COP28 (thequint.com) 
  3. Disarmament for Climate Justice and Health – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (ippnw.org) 
  4. Disarmament for Climate Justice and Health – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (ippnw.org) 

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