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Spending choices

The annual United Nations climate talks, known as the Conference of Parties (COP), have traditionally promised much but delivered little. This year’s COP27 was no different, with most observers noting that it even backtracked on commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow.

The difference between the way the world’s richest countries responded to the Ukraine war and the carbon war on our whole planet is undoubtedly stark.

What was less observed was that the summit faced a major additional obstacle in 2022. This year, the climate crisis was overshadowed by the war in Ukraine which has been the foreign policy priority of the United States and the European Union since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in February. The difference between the way the world’s richest countries responded to the Ukraine war and the carbon war on our whole planet is undoubtedly stark.

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, the US and its NATO allies provided Ukraine with military assistance worth more than $25bn, welcomed nearly seven million refugees, and willingly absorbed severe economic shocks caused by energy price increases triggered by the war.

Despite a global recession looming on the horizon, these countries did not hesitate to increase their military expenditure. Germany allocated 100 billion euros ($104bn) of its 2022 budget for the armed forces, for example, and the US House of Representatives approved a record $840bn military spending.

Yet at COP27, these same wealthiest nations were not even able to deliver the $100bn in climate finance that had been promised as far back as 2009 to the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries. A recent report co-published by the organisation I work for, the Transnational Institute, found that the richest countries spent $9.45 trillion on their militaries between 2013 and 2021 compared with an estimated $234bn on climate finance – in other words, they have spent 30 times as much on the military as climate finance.

After many years of pressure, at COP27, nations finally agreed to create a loss and damage mechanism to provide funds to impoverished countries suffering severe climate impacts, but it is so far just an empty pot. The accelerated arms race that has emerged since the Russian invasion and rising US-China tensions signal that filling that pot will not be a priority for most wealthy nations in the near future.

These spending choices matter not just because they are diverting resources from urgently needed climate action, but also because every dollar spent on the military is worsening the climate crisis. Most militaries consume significant amounts of fossil fuels. One estimate calculates that military emissions may make up 5.5 per cent of global emissions. If the global military were a country, it would be the fourth biggest emitter in the world, ahead of Russia.

Nick Buxton, "Spending choices," The News. 2022-11-28.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Climate crisis , Military assistance , Refugees , China , Ukraine , NATO