Statement on Leaders' Climate Summit from Veterans For Peace Climate Crisis and Militarism Project

April 27, 2021

The Climate Crisis and Militarism Project of Veterans For Peace (VFP) appreciates the efforts of President Biden and Climate Envoy Kerry in hosting the Leaders' Climate Summit on April 22-23. This gathering commemorated Earth Day and looks forward to the UN Conference of Parties 26 to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November. Heads of state, government officials and other dignitaries from 40 countries attended, showing the still-strong convening power of the United States on climate issues. Many important issues, including military concerns, were discussed. President Biden and members of the Biden administration committed to reducing (some, not all) U.S. emissions 50% by 2030. We are pleased that the United States is now going to pay our committed share into the Green Climate Fund to support building climate resilience in the Global South .

The Leaders' Climate Summit is a step forward after many steps backward by the previous administration. But it is just a starting point. In the breakout session hosted by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and attended by, among others, the defense ministers of Iraq, Japan and the U.K., climate impacts on the military, not the impacts caused by the military were highlighted. This is inadequate. The United States military is the world's largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and emitter of greenhouse gasses, as well as a major polluter at domestic and overseas bases. Other large militaries also consume tremendous amounts of petroleum products and generate highly toxic waste.

In this breakout session, the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, actually said the rarely-heard words "military emissions," but his remarks focused on assessing the risks of climate change to the 30 militaries in the alliance, not on plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary of Defense Austin's opening comments also focused on risks and threats, stating that "the climate crisis [unlike other threats] does deserve to be called existential."

We agree. That is why, in our Open Letter to Climate Envoy Kerry, signed by hundreds of peace and environmental/climate organizations, 55 VFP chapters, and hundreds of distinguished individuals, we call for the United States government "to end the squandering of financial, material and human resources, and minimize the Pentagon's carbon bootprint."

As the grim testimony of the defense ministers and other speakers made clear, the world is already ravaged by droughts and floods, wildfires and extreme weather events, often compelling a nation's military to respond to domestic emergencies. In the case of Iraq, droughts and extreme summer heat events pile on top of the environmental devastation caused by the 8-year U.S. war and occupation. VFP supports cutting the Pentagon budget; we also recognize that funding allocations within that budget need to change. The United States (and other countries) need to fund emergency response capabilities, so that the military behaves more like a fire department, not a police force patrolling the world.

Many of us veterans have seen the damage that war has inflicted on people and the environment. We also know the physical, emotional and moral injury that we have faced. Spending money on the U.S. military and its emissions continues to be destructive. We call on President Biden to redirect those monies toward creating well-paid jobs in the green economy. We also call on our chief diplomats, Climate Envoy Kerry and Secretary of State Blinken, to emphasize diplomacy, not military might and war games, in the international affairs of the United States during a time of climate crisis.