The crisis in Ukraine has shown that there is now strategic argument for net zero from the point of view of national security. Yet while the military has long been a pioneer in innovation, developing technologies that can be critical to zero-net innovation, they themselves have historically lagged behind when it comes to actually reducing emissions from their operations. Not only that, the armed forces are blocking the introduction of wind energy into the sea, a key technology needed to decarbonise the energy sector.
“Defense seems to be lagging behind other sectors, such as transport or maritime transport, for years, even decades,” said Christian Eriksen, head of policy and research at the Bellona Foundation’s think tank.
All sectors – no matter how “difficult to reduce” are identified – must be decarbonized to reach net zero, including the military. From fighter jets to wooden aircraft carriers, the armed forces produce significant emissions: 56 million metric tons of CO2 The U.S. Department of Defense spends more each year than its annual emissions Hungary. In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defense is responsible for about half of the total emissions of the public sector of the country.
The low priority given to decarbonisation defense is evident from the countries’ military emissions records presented in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The framework obliges all countries to regularly report emissions from their military each year, but as reporting is voluntary, significant data are lacking. In addition, the lack of reporting standards means that it is difficult to understand whether the data is reliable or not.
These UNFCCC statements have been analyzed by two NGOs, the Concrete Impacts and the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), and the results show that the vast majority of countries either do not disclose their military emissions or do it, but with “very significant underestimation”. The lack of data on military emissions means that the promises made by the military are not credible and make it impossible for the armed forces to participate properly in international climate negotiations, such as those of COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.
Beyond the apathy towards climate action that is felt in society, the main reason the military has not always seen net zero as a priority is that the military risks its capabilities by adopting new equipment that may prove ineffective.
“The operational requirements of the military […] This means that if you want to introduce a new fuel or technology, you have to be absolutely sure that it works, ”explains Björn Newquist of the Stockholm Institute for the Environment. “You just have to look logistical problems facing Russian soldiers in their invasion of Ukraine to see how important it is to fix this. “These problems include fuel shortages and supplies, a lack of protection for the convoy and a scattered command structure.
However, while the challenges of decarbonizing more sophisticated military hardware such as fighters and warships remain, technology to decarbonize other equipment or facilities is now widespread. This could be “a good first step towards decarbonising the defense sector,” Eriksen said. Although some 60% of US military emissions is from fuel for vehicles, much of which can be difficult to reduce in the short term, about 25% comes from purchased electricity, which is easier to decarbonize through the introduction of Renewable sources s battery storage.
It also makes sense for the defense sector to be fully compliant with climate action due to the fact that climate change carries a huge military risk, both in terms of how it destabilizes the environment where bases or equipment can be located, and how increases the risk of social or economic change that may cause conflict.
Opposing the offshore wind
However, even when net zero makes sense in terms of military strategy, the armed forces have historically been a key blocker of new renewable energy sources, in particular offshore wind.
“Historically, the military and offshore wind industry in the UK have not been a good combination,” said Alistair Dutton of the Global Wind Energy Council, a former employee of both Crown Estate and the UK government working offshore wind. “In the beginning, the Department of Defense just said no,” Dutton said. “It wasn’t until we got closer to the end users – the RAF, the Navy and the military – that we started making progress.”
The military opposition to offshore winds usually focuses on the tendency of wind turbines to interfere with long-range radars, as well as air traffic control systems and low-flying operations.
“Areas reserved for defense training and firing ranges can also be challenging,” said Dujon Goncalves-Collins, senior strategic adviser at Vattenfall Wind Power.
“All of these are well-founded concerns about the legitimate risk of wind turbine blades affecting military operations and training,” said Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn of the RMI think tank, who was also assistant secretary of the Obama Fleet for energy, plant and environment. administration. However, these concerns – along with unfavorable clean energy policies – are a major cause of US offshore wind sources. remains so underdeveloped compared to other markets. As early as 2020, it was reported that the Pentagon was blocking efforts to develop wind energy at sea off the coast of California, for example.
The military opposition in Europe is just another factor contributing to the obstacle to resolution, which is threatened by jeopardizing Europe’s plans to expand the wind, says Christoph Zipf from the European industry group WindEurope. “It is too difficult to get permits for wind farms in Europe, procedures are slow and legal challenges add months of delays,” he said. “Restrictions on military and civil aviation are among the main barriers limiting several gigawatts [GW] from the wind across Europe. ”
Finding practical solutions
With the development of technology and the maturing of politics, the military opposition to offshore development has somewhat diminished. In the United Kingdom, a joint working group with representatives of the RAF and the Offshore Wind Industry Council was set up in 2019 to streamline procedures and work through potential conflict points. A joint strategy was published in September 2021 with details how organizations work together to support the deployment of the large wind farms needed to achieve the government’s offshore wind targets, currently 40 GW by 2030 and at least 75 GW by 2050.
“Wind farms support the UK’s commitment to being a world leader in clean energy,” said a spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defense. Energy monitor. “As they have the potential to affect air traffic control and defense radar, we work in government and with industry through the Air Defense and Wind at Sea Working Group to provide mitigation solutions.
Dutton added that once the “dialogue” was established, the “myth” of the incompatibility of renewable energy with defense could be dispelled. “With the UK Department of Defense, we learned that the RAF was simply not given enough money to upgrade its radar to a system that would not be interfered with by the turbine blades,” he said. Various players in the wind industry, including Crown Estate, Equinor, Ørsted and RWE Renewables, subsequently merged to pay the military to upgrade their radar.
“Instead of harsh distance rules and restricted areas, we should instead pursue an international, strategic approach [that accommodates different stakeholders and objectives]”Says Zipf. “We need proactive and joint approaches between governments and wind stakeholders.”
In the United States, run by the Department of Defense ‘clearing house’ works with industry to promote internal energy development, while ensuring that all risks to military capabilities are minimized. The latter range from the aforementioned interruptions to radar capabilities, to ensuring that the military retains space to test missiles, to ensuring that solar systems do not produce solar “glare” by reflecting the sun back to members of the armed forces. The government-run organization was originally used extensively to approve renewable energy onshore, but has also facilitated new offshore developments in the past two years, McGinn said.
“We are moving in the right direction,” said Goncalves-Collins of Vattenfall. “The military is taking a more active role [in permitting]united by its own understanding that it must adapt training and operations to a low-carbon future. “
Net zero as a means of protection
War in Ukraine showed net zero as a means of raising energy security, encouraging countries to generate their own energy instead of importing hydrocarbons from autocrats – but also showed the importance of having a strong army as a means of countering global threats. These two issues – defense and zero network – are deeply intertwined, and the pursuit of one without the other makes no sense.
“The fact that energy security is now such a geopolitical issue means that renewable energy infrastructure will have to co-exist with defense equipment earlier than expected,” said Goncalves-Collins. In practice, this will not only mean that the military cooperates with civilian authorities in authorizing new offshore wind sources, but will also stimulate investment in all types of clean technologies, energy efficiency, hydrogen and electronic fuels to decarbonise its own emissions and help bring society to net zero.
“The war in Ukraine shows us how important it is to have a strong military capability in the United States and NATO, which we must not sacrifice by decarbonising too quickly,” warns Vice Admiral McGinn. “But it also teaches us that our energy security, economic security and environmental security are interlinked, and we need to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy as soon as possible.