The elephant in Paris – the military and greenhouse gas emissions


Six UH-60L Black Hawks and two CH-47F Chinooks launch a daytime mission from Multinational Base, Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, 18 Jan. 2013. Sgt. Scott Tant / DVIDSHUB under a Creative Commons Licence

In the aftermath of the terrible killings in Paris, military responses are again taking central stage, writes Nick Buxton.

There is no shortage of words in the latest negotiating document for the UN climate negotiations taking place in Paris at the end of November – 32,731 words to be precise, and counting. Yet strangely there is one word you won’t find: military. It is a strange omission, given that the US military alone is the single largest user of petroleum in the world and has been the main enforcer of the global oil economy for decades.

The history of how the military disappeared from any carbon accounting ledgers goes back to the UN climate talks in 1997 in Kyoto. Under pressure from military generals and foreign policy hawks opposed to any potential restrictions on US military power, the US negotiating team succeeded in securing exemptions for the military from any required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the US then proceeded not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the exemptions for the military stuck for every other signatory nation. Even today, the reporting each country is required to make to the UN on their emissions excludes any fuels purchased and used overseas by the military.

As a result it is still difficult to calculate the exact responsibility of the world’s military forces for greenhouse gas emissions. A US Congressional report in 2012 said that the Department of Defense consumed about 117 million barrels of oil in 2011, only a little less than all the petrol and diesel use of all cars in Britain the same year. Deploying that oil across the globe to the fuel-greedy hummers, jets and drones has become a growing preoccupation of NATO military strategists.

But the responsibility of the military for the climate crisis goes much further than their own use of fossil fuels. As we witnessed in Iraq, the military, the arms corporations and their many powerful political supporters have consistently relied on (and aggressively pushed for) armed intervention to secure oil and energy supplies. The military is not just a prolific user of oil, it is one of the central pillars of the global fossil-fuel economy. Today whether it is in the Middle East, the Gulf, or the Pacific, modern-day military deployment is about controlling oil-rich regions and defending the key shipping supply routes that carry half the world’s oil and sustain our consumer economy.

The resulting expansion of conflict across the globe has consumed ever-increasing levels of military expenditure: in 2014, global military expenditure reached $1.8 trillion dollars. This money is a huge diversion of public resources that could be invested instead in renewable energy as well as providing support for those most affected by climate change. When the British government in 2014 allocates £25 billion to the Ministry of Defence but only £1.5 billion to the Department of Energy & Climate Change, it is clear where its priorities lie.

Ironically despite their role in the climate crisis, one of the loudest voices calling for action on climate change is coming from the military. British Rear Admiral Morisetti is typical of a growing chorus of military generals identifying climate change as the major security challenge of this century. He argues for action on climate change because it will be a ‘threat multiplier’ with the potential to exacerbate the ‘development-terrorism’ nexus. The argument has been readily picked up by politicians who increasingly talk about the security implications of climate change.

This could seem a welcome development. After all who would not want one of the most powerful forces on your side in tackling humanity’s greatest ever challenge? But there is a good reason also to be cautious of who we jump into bed with. A close look at military climate change strategies reveals that their focus is on securing borders, protecting trade supply-routes for corporations, controlling conflicts around resources and instability caused by extreme weather, and repressing social unrest. They turn the victims of climate change into ‘threats’ to be controlled or combated. There is no critical examination of the military’s own role in enforcing a corporate-dominated fossil-fuel economy that has caused the climate crisis.

In fact, there is evidence that many players in this corporate-military-security industrial nexus are already seeing climate change not just as a threat but an opportunity. Arms and security industries thrive on conflict and insecurity and climate change promises another financial boon to add to the ongoing War on Terror. British arms giant BAE Systems was surprisingly open about this in one of their annual reports explaining ‘New threats and conflict arenas are placing unprecedented demands on military forces and presenting BAE Systems with new challenges and opportunities.’ An Energy Environmental Defence and Security (E2DS) conference in 2011 jubilantly proclaimed that ‘the aerospace, defence and security sector is gearing up to address what looks set to become its most significant adjacent market since the strong emergence of the civil/homeland security business almost a decade ago.’

In the aftermath of the terrible killings in Paris, military responses are again taking central stage. It seems that the lack of evidence of any success from 14 years of bombings, drone killings, armed invasions is no obstacle to the military-security juggernaut. Do we really want the same forces to now dominate our response to climate change which will affect millions of people over the coming decades? A growing number of social movements are saying that climate change demands breaking the cycle of violence in order to build a collective caring response to a crisis that will affect us all. The Paris climate talks are an opportunity to draw attention to the military elephant in the room and demand that adaptation to climate change is led by principles of human rights and solidarity, rather than militarism and corporate profits.

These issues will be explored at a series of launch events for the book Secure and Dispossessed – Challenging the militarization of climate change (Pluto Press/TNI) published this month. The London launch will be held at 6.30pm on 25 November at Free Word Centre, London, the Amsterdam launch at 7.30pm Tuesday 1 December at Pakhuis de Zwijger and the Paris launch during the climate forum meetings on the 5 and 6 December. An earlier version of this article was published by Global Justice Now.

Global inequality is about power, not just wealth

WEF chair Klaus Schwab

Widening the inequality gap: World Economic Forum Chair Klaus Schwab. Robert Scoble under a Creative Commons Licence

Two years after Occupy gave voice to popular anger at inequality, the issue of the 1% continues to top the political agenda. At times, though, this takes a very incongruous form, and no more so than last week, when multi-millionaires on their annual $100,000 pilgrimage to Davos declared income disparity as their ‘number one’ concern.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) even seemed to welcome admonishment from the Pope and Oxfam; Klaus Schwab, the executive Chair, agreed that ‘we have too large a disparity in the world’ and ‘need more inclusiveness’.

But there was one admonishment that those at WEF were not willing to listen to: the challenge to their assumption that they should decide on global issues. The concentration of wealth, highlighted by Oxfam’s report that 85 of the richest people own the same wealth as half the world’s population, is only part of the picture.

The bigger issue is the concentration of power that arises from and generates further wealth concentration. Addressing this will mean questioning the very existence of Davos and the way it has fostered and encouraged policies that have entrenched corporate rule and élite power in recent decades.

A new report published by the Transnational Institute entitled State of Power – Exposing the Davos Class, makes clear that the widening gulf between rich and poor is closely tied to an economic system that has given corporations unprecedented influence over policy-making, and enshrined rights for corporations that supersede human rights.

Today, 37 of the world’s largest economies are corporations. Walmart, Shell, Volkswagen and others have become modern-day empires, bigger economically than Denmark, Israel or Singapore. And when you examine who owns these corporations, the power gets even more concentrated –147 companies (or 1 per cent of businesses) control the shares of more than 40 per cent of the world’s transnationals.

Corporations have been able to achieve this power through a systematic takeover of the state, rather like a virus infects a body. Driven by a profit-making motive embedded in their genetic makeup, corporations have sought at every stage to remove barriers and facilitate their cancerous growth. The result has been trade deals that allow corporations to sue states but give no legal recourse to states.

Rather than seek to tackle these vested interests and address the root causes of inequality and social injustice, the WEF seeks to strengthen them. The Forum proudly proclaims it is run by its members who ‘comprise 1,000 of the world’s top corporations... with more than $5 billion in turnover. These enterprises rank among the top companies within their industry and play a leading role in shaping the future of their industry and region.’

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the idea for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US and Canada germinated at Davos. The result, as we know 20 years later, is a toxic legacy of sweatshops, environmental contamination, high poverty levels and violence that has wracked Mexico.

Moreover, a look at the prominent corporate members of Davos quickly unveils a history of fraud, tax evasion, human rights abuses and environmental degradation – none of which, it seems, disqualifies them from having open access to Davos and governments worldwide.

Instead of questioning corporations’ accountability or their impact, Klaus Schwab claims corporations should be given an even greater role in deciding public policy. In a Foreign Affairs article in 2008, he argued for ‘global corporate citizenship’, saying that companies ‘are themselves stakeholders alongside governments and civil society’.

Schwab states that the world’s complex problems are best dealt with through multi-stakeholderism – in other words, transnational corporations along with a few powerful governments, carefully selected ‘thought leaders’ and invited members of ‘civil society’. The power balance of this multi-stakeholderism is evident in the mix represented at Davos – a theoretical working model for the global governance toward which Davos aspires. This year, while some 1,500 business delegates attended, there are only 37 NGO leaders (mainly from large NGOs) and 10 labour leaders.

But thanks to powerful political backers, Schwab’s proposition for a corporate-led governance is gaining traction. In 2009, taking advantage of the global crisis, WEF launched the Global Redesign Initiative (GRI) aiming ‘to stimulate a strategic thought process among all stakeholders about ways in which international institutions and arrangements should be adapted to contemporary challenges’.

Its final report advocates a stakeholder approach in every aspect of public policy. It rejects intergovernmental agreements, international frameworks and enforceable hard law that would constrain corporations, favouring instead voluntarism, codes of conduct and soft law. The theme of this year’s WEF, ‘The Reshaping of the World’, clearly builds on this proposal.

The attempts at Davos to further concentrate political power takes us completely in the wrong direction for tackling today’s social and ecological crises. As Susan George notes, ‘Democracy has in no way kept up with the pace of globalization; whether nationally or internationally, authority is exercised without the consent of the governed.’

Davos portrays itself as the forward-thinking, enlightened, socially responsive side of business – but is, at its core, part of the problem, not the solution. While its members have been forced to address inequality thanks to the power of popular movements emerging worldwide, the ongoing actions of those members are entrenching it.

Nick Buxton is the communications manager at the Transnational Institute. Jacket for TNI State of Power report

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