Disarmament must be on the climate justice agenda!

By Dr Arun Mitra  

It is welcome that over 80,000 participants from around the globe gathered in Dubai to deliberate on the strategies to mitigate the climate crisis which, if not checked, would be catastrophic. The event happened at a time when an appalling humanitarian crisis is unfolding as a result of Israel’s bombing of innocent civilians in Gaza. This has killed over 16000 Palestinians, of which 70 percent are women and children, and it has caused total destruction of infrastructure, making people homeless.

Any military activity adds to the climate crisis. It is by now well known that military activity is estimated to contribute 5.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years we have witnessed the substantial increase in military spending worldwide. Presently it is higher than ever. In 2022 world military expenditure rose to $2.24 trillion (USD) out of which $82.9 billion were spent on nuclear weapons alone.

The reporting on military expenditure by governments is always a secret matter and there is no transparency in reporting military related activities, for “security reasons.” Dr Stuart Parkinson and Linsey Cottrell of the Scientists for Global Responsibility and Conflict and the Environment Observatory respectively, point out in their study “Estimating the Military’s Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions” that if the world’s militaries were a country, this figure would mean they have the fourth largest national carbon footprint in the world – greater than that of Russia. Researchers found that the first 12 months of war in Ukraine accounted for 119 million tons of CO2, as much as Belgium produced in the same period.

This emphasizes the urgent need for concerted action both to robustly measure military emissions and to reduce the related carbon footprint – especially as these emissions are very likely to be growing in the wake of the war in Ukraine and Israeli aggression in Gaza.

It is therefore imperative that disarmament should have taken a front seat during the deliberations at COP28. The last COP27 failed to issue any statement on disarmament. However, this time some organizations including International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) made it a point to highlight this issue, if not in the main forum, at least on the sidelines among the participants.

It is strange that a declaration was adopted at COP28 calling upon nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the health sector swiftly, sustainably and substantially. This has happened when, compared to 5.5 percent of total emissions by military activity, there is generation of 4.4 percent by the global healthcare sector. Whereas the military activity is meant to kill, the healthcare sector is to sustain life.

The IPPNW has further warned that continuation of wars could threaten the use of nuclear weapons which would be catastrophic. The study “Climate Consequences of Regional Nuclear War,” by former IPPNW co-president Ira Helfand and Alan Robock from the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, has pointed out that the nuclear weapons present on earth pose a serious risk to climate and thus risk to all life forms.

A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons would put two billion people at risk; any nuclear exchange between the major nuclear powers could be end of modern civilization built through thousands of years of human labour. Soot and debris injected into the atmosphere from the explosions and resulting fires would block sunlight from reaching Earth, producing an average surface cooling of -1.25 C that would last for several years. Even 10 years out, there would be a persistent average surface cooling of -0.5 C. This will reduce rainfall globally by 10 percent and lead to crop failure, further leading to starvation and death.

It was therefore important for COP28 to call for complete abolition of nuclear weapons and promote negotiations to encourage the nuclear weapons possessing countries to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

When there are talks of shifting to non-fossil fuel sources of energy, there is a lobby within COP28 which speaks on the importance of nuclear energy. This is a false and dangerous narrative. Nuclear power is no solution to climate change; it has serious health consequences and increases the risk of nuclear proliferation. Nuclear power is expensive and unreliable, is losing importance relative to overall electricity production, lags behind renewables in terms of cost effectiveness and output and is hence outdated.

Therefore, it is required that the world ceases the creation of new nuclear power plants, enact the rapid phase-out of nuclear energy generation, and shift to a just renewable energy transition.

We need to cut emissions by half by 2030 to stay within the 1.5-degree limit and thereby ensure planetary and human health. The UN Secretary General’s video message on glaciers from the Mount Everest region, speaks of billions of peoples’ voices around the world who knowingly and unknowingly are being adversely affected as a result of climate crisis. “This is a sickness only you, global leaders, can cure,” he said, calling on the leaders to end the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and to fulfil the long overdue promise for climate justice.

That on the opening day of COP28 delegates reached a deal on the operationalization of a fund for loss and damage to help the world’s most vulnerable countries pay for the devastating impacts of climate disaster is a welcome step, to an extent. This is, however, not the final solution. It leaves lacuna for developed countries to move ahead but with the developing world behind in the development race for its own citizens.

The global arms race threatens health and the climate. Disarmament and demilitarization can help finance climate mitigation. Cooperation and human security should be at the center of politics and decision-making. The international community should at least form a commission to discuss the issue in detail for COP29.

New Age Weekly, Organ of the Communist Party of India

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