Safe Landing at ‘Military Emissions Gap’ Conference

3 Oct, 2023

👨‍✈️ Safe Landing member, Finlay Asher, spoke at this event at Oxford University, organised by the Conflict and Environment Observatory, on Panel 4: “Military carbon footprints: how do we decarbonise?”: https://ceobs.org/conference-military-and-conflict-ghg-emissions-from-understanding-to-mitigation/

✈ At Safe Landing, we spend most of our time and energy addressing civil aviation emissions from commercial flights and don’t speak very often about military emissions.

💣 But it’s important to remember that the world’s largest militaries have emissions many times larger than other entire countries.

⚔️ Conflicts tend to be both humanitarian and environmental disasters. Climate change, and increasing intensity of competition over scarce global resources are also exacerbating the drivers of conflict.

⚠️ This is why corporate greenwash that fails to take into account resource scarcity is so dangerous – and interestingly, this greenwash has filtered into the military where we are already seeing talk of biofuel and e-fuel powered aircraft.

👨‍🏫 On this, we set the record straight, with our presentation centering around the inherently inefficiencies of these fuel processes and our concerns that they will drive future energy, land, water and food insecurity. We are intensely worried that combined with continued population growth, increased per-capita consumption of resources, and erosion of arable land, fresh water and biodiversity loss – these will drive future conflicts around the globe as many are forced to either migrate or stay to fight it out over what remains habitable: 

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🔵🟡 We also heard from researchers on the ground in Ukraine, monitoring the huge environmental destruction unfolding around them during the conflict there – including from military vehicles, equipment, ammunition fired, infrastructure destroyed, and forests being ignited into wildfires.    

🙋‍♂️ The other presentations included a graphics showing that that the majority of emissions from the UK military and elsewhere came from either military ships or aircraft. Both are clearly reliant on the same oil-based fuels are required for civil aviation and shipping. We then listened to a talk from James Clare, the Director of Climate Change & Sustainability, at the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) – and had a chance to put some questions to him. Critically, we asked the question: “Given the main drivers of military emissions from the UK MoD are ships and aircraft, and given they are competing for the same types of alternative fuels as civil aviation and shipping, have you identified a high-risk to meeting your decarbonisation targets for 2030 coming from a lack of available feedstock, and competition for those feedstocks with those other sectors? This question was followed by a note that the UK Civil Aviation sector (through it’s ‘Jet Zero’ strategy and planned “Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) mandate” is targeting 10% “SAF” by 2030, despite analysis showing that only 2% could be achieved with proven fuel pathways and more than 5% would be almost impossible given feedstock constraints by 2030.

🤷‍♂️ His response was (predictably) carefully worded, and fairly waffley, but after pushing him on a yes/no answer on whether they’d identified that risk – he did finally admit “you know what the answer to that question is”. The answer is obviously yes – yet it is quite telling that even the military are feeling like they need to jump on the corporate marketing bandwagon, rather than call-out greenwash and take a more critical and robust approach to mitigating threats – to the climate and ultimately to citizen safety. We did have a good and productive conversation afterwards though – and have agreed to share some of our knowledge around what’s actually possible in the near-term with alternative fuels – e.g. hydro-treated kerosene.

👥 Overall, this was a great event to attend which included a fair number of organisations and fair amount of expertise – outside our usual ‘sustainable aviation’ and ‘clean transport’ circles. Super useful, and we left very grateful to the incredible campaigners working across the world to painstakingly monitor, account and attempt to somehow improve or regulate what is a very murky and very ‘un-glamourous’ sector to research!

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