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Military fighter jets on an aircraft carrier

The world’s military must more accurately report its carbon emissions or measures to cut the greenhouse gas risk becoming “guesswork”.

That’s the message from a team of researchers including Dr Oliver Belcher of our School of Government and International Affairs. 

Global emissions 

The military is a heavy emitter of greenhouse gases, but no one knows exactly how much. 

Estimates suggest that between one per cent to five per cent of global emissions come from the armed forces, compared to aviation and shipping at two per cent each. 

If it was a nation, the USA’s military would have the highest emissions in the world per person at 42 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per staff member. 

For each 100 nautical miles flown, the US Air Force’s F-35 fighter jet emits as much CO² as an average UK petrol car does in one year. 

The researchers say that politics and a lack of expertise mean that reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are silent on military emissions. 

The researchers add that without international agreement on accountability, the monitoring and cutting of military emissions remain low priorities. 

Impact on climate and society 

They are calling for the world’s military to be held accountable for its emissions and for common standards for accounting, reporting and reducing emissions. 

They also want the military to improve its ability to calculate, manage and cut emissions, while they say that researchers also need to document and understand how wars impact on climate and society. 

Finally, the researchers say that independent research is paramount in keeping the military accountable and upholding obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Find out more 

  • Durham’s co-author was Dr Oliver Belcher in our School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA). 

  • SGIA is a research-intensive department and uses innovative teaching techniques to ensure it combines its latest world-leading research into the programmes it delivers.  Feeling inspired? Visit our SGIA webpages to find out more about studying with us.