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The mystery of the Australia Defence Force 'carbon bootprint'

What is the ADF's carbon bootprint?

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) pledges to ‘defend Australia and its national interests’. However, the Government’s refusal to clearly report military greenhouse gas emissions may result in the ADF unnecessarily contributing to the greatest threat currently facing Australia and the rest of the world - anthropogenic climate change.

The intensity and rapid onset of climate change demands global cooperation at an unprecedented level. Effective cooperation hinges on accountability achieved via honest and transparent reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is a signatory, demands that parties produce national reports detailing all sources of greenhouse gases.

For the most part, Australia complies with this requirement via the National Greenhouse Accounts which consist of various reports. However, these reports only explicitly include data regarding military emissions resulting from fuel used in military transport, leaving it unclear whether emissions from other sources are also included. Their conspicuous absence makes it seem more likely that they are excluded. Furthermore, the data regarding fuel used in military transport is conspicuously low -  less than 1% of emission from all other transport and far lower than that which the reports of other countries would suggest.

We reached out to Secretary of Defence, Greg Moriarty, seeking clarification regarding these issues some time ago, and are yet to receive a response. Read the letter we sent here.

It is possible that Australia does not report military emissions due to a loophole established in the earlier Kyoto Protocol. Here, the U.S. won an opt-out from the requirement to report on military emissions in the name of national security, even though the U.S. never ultimately signed the treaty. In contrast, the newer Paris Agreement does not have an automatic exemption for military emissions, so there is no longer any excuse for Australia to exclude them.

Failure to report military emissions could be particularly harmful, given the fact that military emissions are known to copious. For reference, in 2017, the Canadian Government reported that the Department of National Defence emitted 639,619 tons of CO2 - more CO2 than any other department by a factor of five. Furthermore, the U.S. armed forces consumed over 85 million barrels of oil in 2017 alone.

There are many challenges that the international community must overcome to reduce emissions and realistically plan for a warmer world. We must not add to this burden by providing vast under-estimates of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by excluding military emissions.

A failure to report military emissions may also allow the military’s use of fossil fuels to go unchecked and to be unrestrained by international pressure.

The irony that it would be the nation’s defence force that would ultimately harm Australia is not lost on us, nor will it be on future generations.

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