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Climate Change

Military Spending Increases As The World Stands On The Edge Of A Moral And Climate Crisis

by Isatis M. Cintron-Rodriguez
November 11, 2021

With COP26 underway we need to stop spending on potential military conflicts and more on the real climate crisis.

Unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree global warming limit will be beyond reach. As it stands now, countries' current commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not hold the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone the aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees. This means that by 2050, more than 200 million people could be displaced from places made uninhabitable due to climate change. As you can see, the destabilization of the climate system is already a geopolitical threat making the climate crisis a global peace and security issue. And, yet our military and security spending does almost nothing to address this coming crisis. Making this worse, the U.S. is addicted to oil as our country is the single biggest consumer of oil on the planet. 

Moreover, military spending is not even making us safer. Levels of peace have fallen by 2% since 2008 despite record military spending of almost $2 trillion in 2020. Armed conflicts result in losses of global economic activity due to job loss, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) impacts, decreased productivity, and internal security expenditure. This is dangerous, unjust, and patently against the idea that only through international cooperation will we ensure the survival of humanity. 

So, how do climate expenditures compare to military spending? According to Nature.com, the cost of violence in 2019 was 10.6% of global GDP. Yet, we would need only 6% of the worldwide GDP to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and adequately invest in the Paris Agreement, meaning that fighting the climate crisis to protect our well-being costs less than perpetuating violence. We need to rise above and develop a framework at COP26 to overcome the climate emergency and reorganize countries' spending priorities. It can be done, and it must be done. 

Cost of Violence; Nature 2020

Cost of Violence;

Nature 2020

To send a strong signal during the  26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama co-hosted a regional summit to favor joint approaches on effective climate action in the Americas. These global south countries posed serious questions to the powerful nations about their commitment to reversing the climate crisis. 

Specifically, the summit called upon the G20, a group of developed countries that constitute 80% of global emissions, to do their part by laying out clear emissions-reducing plans and committing to carbon neutrality by 2050. We need to "address climate change with the responsibility and sense of urgency demanded by society, science, and life on our planet," said Chilean Minister of the Environment, Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar. The G20 met in Rome days before the COP26 to discuss collaboratively attacking the climate crisis, but the results left much to be desired. 

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In addition, the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, questioned if addressing climate change is at the forefront of countries' plans as military spending has increased for the second year in a row exceeding Cold War levels. President Alvarado asked, "Where is the world's priority when the planet is at risk, and we are arming ourselves for conflict? The worst threat is the survival of our common home". 

Should the United States decide to scale up renewable energy assistance rather than its military arsenal, policies are already on the table to help developing countries overcome the climate crisis. The U.S. has already committed $70 billion a year to help developing countries adapt to climate change, a figure that may more than quadruple by the end of the decade. At the summit, United Nations Secretary Antonio Guterres highlighted priorities for climate action: 

  • We must abide by the effort to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise limit within reach
  • Donors and multilateral banks to align portfolios with the 1.5 degrees and allocate at least 50% of climate finance to adaptation and resilience,
  • We must deliver a credible plan for developed countries to deliver the $100 billion commitment made more than ten years ago.

The UN chief also said that "a just transition means ensuring that workers in high-carbon and fossil fuel-related sectors have decent alternative options, are supported for retraining, and have social safety nets."

Furthermore, the Prime Minister of Barbados Hon. Mia Amor Mottley pointed out clear examples of climate injustice. Specifically, the island of Dominique lost 256% of their GDP and the entire island of Barbuda was evacuated due to Hurricane Irma, but most importantly the islands face water stress similar to countries in the South Sahara. These examples are exacerbated as the bulk of financial relief is earmarked for climate remediation instead of for climate adaption which is more urgently needed. Changes in the determination of global priorities must be a significant piece of the final framework that flows from the COP26 negotiations.

With that in mind, Barbados is expecting real commitments from the G20 countries at COP26. Given that small island states constitute 25% of the world but are on the frontlines of climate change, Prime Minister Mottley stated, "we might not survive, we ought to see a disproportionate amount made available to these countries." Barbados is making a call for small island states to see climate justice in action, including:

  • Scaling up of finance to go beyond the $100 billion per year promised over a decade ago but has yet to be delivered,
  • At least 40% of all climate capital to be made available for small island states, with a mix of grants and low-interest funds
  • The establishment of the Loss and Damage mechanism rules 

The only way to avert climate catastrophe is to implement far-reaching strategies and changes to our way of life. As the window closes to keep the 1.5 degree limit within reach, COP26 is the time for countries to redirect their priorities to help fund a peaceful and thriving future for everyone.

Isatis M. Cintron-Rodriguez (Ph.D. Candidate) is a Puerto Rican climate researcher awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship to study the impacts of atmospheric pollution in the cryosphere and potential mitigation policies. She works in the intersection between climate civic diplomacy, strategizing and community organizing around climate action and human rights in the Latin America and Caribbean Region (LAC). She is the LAC Regional Coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby/International (CCI), focused on advancing climate-smart finance, climate empowerment, and public participation both at the national and the UNFCCC level.

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