We track the following Federal climate efforts:
- Biden Administration;
- Department of Defense (DoD);
- Congress; and
- State Department’s international outreach, especially by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, a founding member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
With the blockage of Biden's Build Back Better plan (BBB) by Republicans and conservative Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (PUBLIC LAW 117–58—NOV. 15, 2021) is, as of March 2022, the only major legislation that addresses climate. This infrastructure bill allocates tens of billions to mass transit, EV charging stations, electrical grid updates, etc., but only slightly impacts the US military. Also, according to Ben Beachy, director of the Sierra Club's Living Economy Program it "...fails to meaningfully address the climate crisis or advance environmental justice..."
The Biden Administration's most significant acts impacting DoD's current efforts to mitigate and to adapt to climate change are Executive Orders (EO) issued in the administration's first year. Biden's EO 14008, which was issued February 1, 2021, details Federal plans for tackling climate change. EO 14057, which was issued December 8, 2021, promotes decarbonizing the supply chain. How these EOs impact DoD's climate plans are described in the section on DoD.
Since EO's can be quickly changed by the next Executive, future progress on reducing military emissions may depend largely on which political party controls the government, especially the White House. Former President Trump killed Obama's Clean Power Plan, weakened US vehicle mileage standards, and pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Consequently, it is not a reach of imagination to envision major rollbacks on DoD's measures to mitigate climate change when Republicans regain control of the White House.
The most significant laws pertaining to US military greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which have to date been passed by Congress, are buried in a few paragraphs within the massive military spending bills or National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) for FY2022 and FY2021. In the FY2021 NDAA, DoD is instructed to "...report on the total level of greenhouse gas emissions for each of the last 10 fiscal years" (Public Law 116-238, Section 328). This report, which was submitted by the Secretary of Defense but not publicly released, is described in the following section.
In the FY2022 NDAA, DoD is mandated to "... submit to Congress a plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions" and to provide to Congress "... annual briefings on the progress of the Department of Defense toward meeting science-based emissions targets...." (Senate Bill S. 1605, Section 323). This reduction plan, which is due September 30, 2022, also mandates (in Section 873) that DoD establish an independent study "not later than March 30, 2022" with a "federally funded research and development center" to examine its supply chain and to consider "... resilience, low-carbon, or low-toxicity criteria as competition factors...." This is important because, as Dr. Neta Crawford, Professor of Political Science at Boston University and co-director of the Cost of War Project, points out, total emissions from the U.S. war industries are even more than the emission levels of the military they support.
The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy emission reduction plans are described in the following section. To date the U.S. Air Force has not released its plan.
Congress has only slightly touched upon the intersection of the climate crisis and US militarism. The Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released their Report in June 2020 with a section on national security, which primarily discusses resilience and preparedness and not decarbonization of the military (p. 503-510). This report was issued during the Trump Administration. Consequently, the House action plan does not adhere to the guidelines issued in Biden's EOs. In the Senate, the Democrats had a temporary Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, active in 2019 and 2020. The Senate Democrats' Report stipulates that "Congress must direct the military to dramatically reduce the energy consumption of its major weapons system," but it too predates Biden's climate mandates.
Pictured above: Select Committee Chair Kathy Castor and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Department of Defense (DoD)
In response to the mandates in the FY2021 NDAA, the Secretary of Defense submitted an emissions report to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives and to the Comptroller General on August 30, 2021. The report, which was not publicly released, shows DoD emissions reduced by 29.1% from 2008 to 2019 and tracks with emissions levels estimated by Dr. Neta Crawford in a Cost of War Project 2019 study The military GHG emission decrease appears significant but this number does not include emissions by private contracted services, which make up 24% of DoD’s average budget (The Growth of the "Camo Economy" and the Commercialization of the Post-9/11 Wars). In addition, if the same rate of decrease continues through to 2050, DoD will still be emitting approximately 24MMT of GHG or nearly half of its present-day level.
The U.S. Army released their emission reduction plan or Army Climate Strategy (ACS) on February 8, 2022 Citing President Biden’s Executive Orders (EO) 14008 and 14057, the ACS states the Army will achieve 50% reduction in GHG emission by 2030 and be net zero by 2050, including “all Army procurements.” Referring to the ACS, the Washington Post pointed out “The strategy still needs to be backed by an actual budget”. For an analysis of the ACS by Dr. Neta Crawford see "US Army plan to combat climate change lacks the fighting spirit".
The U.S. Navy released their Department of Navy Climate Action Plan 2030 (NCAP; Department of the Navy Climate Action 2030.pdf) in May 2022. The NCAP is specific in its 2030 targets, such as, ”…a 65 percent reduction in scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions department-wide by 2030 (measured from a 2008 baseline) that do not pertain to operational emissions.” NCAP does state, however, the Department of Navy “…will address its operational emissions, supporting a Department-wide pathway to net-zero by 2050, focusing on initiatives that both increase capability and decrease emissions.” How these climate goals square with the NCAP closing declaration that the U.S. Navy will “…remain the world’s dominant maritime force,” is not enumerated.
When evaluating DoD’s plans for reducing its GHG emissions, one must be on the lookout for “greenwashing,” which are deceitful practices designed to appear environmentally friendly. One example is the use of “net zero,” which is a policy where GHG going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere. Dr. Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, points out some of the pitfalls of the policy. Essentially, to support any realistic “net zero” pronouncement the removal processes and GHG removal amounts must be accounted for separately from emissions. For example, when the NCAP and ACS and declare they will be net zero by 2050, they need to produce a plan to back that up. This is a formidable task if the present force structure is maintained. To illustrate this, if DoD were to count on the planting of trees to offset their emissions, the maximum planting of new trees GLOBALLY would sequester less than 50% of current US military emissions (see Table 2).
As pointed out in the February 28/March 7, 2022 Time Magazine article, “To Take Climate Change Seriously, the U.S. Military Needs to Shrink", to significantly shrink its emissions, the US military must shrink. Plus, with an already bloated military budget, the US cannot afford a same sized “green” force structure.
Department of State/Climate Envoy Kerry
The closest the State Department and Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry have come to addressing the connections between climate and the military are Kerry’s statements pertaining to the Ukraine conflict “… in terms of the climate efforts that a war is the last thing you need with respect to a united effort to try to deal with the climate challenge". As of mid-March 2022, Kerry has not addressed the incompatibility of an arms race with global efforts to mitigate a worsening climate crisis. (For CCMP view on what needs to be done on Ukraine see The Ukraine Crisis and the Recent IPCC Report).
John Kerry’s most visible accomplishment has been his participation at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. The intersection of climate change and militarism, however, was only addressed outside of the formal meetings during demonstrations and in panel discussions at the COP26 Coalition, People's Summit for Climate Justice. But as VFP|CCMP stated after the close of the meeting, the USA’s poor “example” led to the half-measures achieved at COP26 because why should other nations, both USA’s friends and foes, prioritize action on climate when the USA spends more in one year on so-called “defense” than the total 10-year funding for climate action proposed in the Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which is now dead?
It is yet to be seen whether the USA and Kerry can build on half measures achieved at COP 26 at the upcoming COP27, which is scheduled to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November of 2022. Unfortunately, the tragedy in Ukraine may hurt the world’s efforts to mitigate the worse effects of the climate crisis.