The U.S. Army released its first climate strategy on Tuesday, vowing to slash its climate pollution to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
“The time to address climate change is now,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth in a statement. “The Army must adapt across our entire enterprise and purposefully pursue greenhouse gas mitigation strategies to reduce climate risks.”
In a 19-page report detailing its net-zero plan, the Army identified decarbonization strategies across its operations and supply chains, including electrifying Army vehicles and generating electricity from carbon-free sources. The Army said it will increase the number of climate experts in its strategic headquarters and publish climate change “lessons and best practices” every two years.
While some experts applauded the Army for recognizing the urgent need to adapt to climate change, many also highlighted critical shortcomings with the Army’s strategy. Benjamin Neimark, a senior lecturer at Lancaster University’s Environment Centre in the U.K., called the strategy “overly ambitious and downright disingenuous” due to problems with emissions reporting and the omission of key sources of climate pollution, such as aircraft emissions.
Stil, the Army’s report helps demonstrate that the Department of Defense, or DOD, is coming to terms with the urgent need to mitigate global warming. Climate change is already wreaking havoc on military personnel and infrastructure, with troops facing higher health and safety risks from natural disasters and extreme weather causing billions of dollars in damage to military bases over the past few years.
“The effects of climate change have taken a toll on supply chains, damaged our infrastructure, and increased risks to Army Soldiers and their families,” Wormuth wrote in an introduction to the Army report.
Much of the Army’s strategy aims to protect itself from these impacts. One series of objectives outlines goals to “enhance resilience and sustainability” across the Army’s 130 bases and other facilities around the world, including efforts to install a microgrid on every facility by 2035. The Army also pledged to use some of its 13 million acres of land to sequester carbon dioxide and protect ecosystems.
Doug Weir, research and policy director for the U.K.-based nonprofit Conflict and Environment Observatory, called the Army’s announcement “significant,” noting the potential for the U.S. to demonstrate global leadership on military decarbonization. “We have yet to see an equivalent report from China or Russia or Saudi Arabia,” he said, although militaries around the world are increasingly talking about climate change as a major security threat.
However, he and others noted a number of shortcomings with the Army’s strategy. Opaque emissions reporting, for example, makes it difficult to hold the Army — or the broader DOD — accountable for its emissions reduction pledges. Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Boston University, has called the patchwork of available military emissions data a “giant jigsaw puzzle,” although independent analyses have shown that the U.S.’s military-wide emissions are massive; they outstrip those of 140 entire countries. According to Crawford, the Army alone emits about 11 million metric tons of greenhouse gas each year.
Crawford said the Army should have set a tighter deadline for slashing its enormous climate footprint, and that it shouldn’t have used a 2005 benchmark for its goal of halving emissions by 2030. Because the Army was embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2005 was an abnormally high-emission year, she explained — and the Army’s emissions have already declined significantly since then. “I think this is a great step forward,” Crawford said of the Army’s net-zero plan, “but what is required is a more ambitious plan.”
Other climate advocates went further, criticizing the very notion of a climate-friendly military force.
“There is no such thing as sustainable land dominance, and there is no way to pursue climate justice within the context of such a strategy,” said Lorah Steichen, outreach coordinator for the National Priorities Project at the nonprofit Institute for Policy Studies. Instead, she advocated for a much simpler way to reduce the Army’s emissions: Scale down its size.
Neimark, from Lancaster University, similarly criticized the Army’s approach for “tinkering around the edges,” and recommended a reduction in military spending. This year, President Joe Biden authorized a $777 billion defense bill, despite protests from some members of Congress. “There is a relationship between military budgets and carbon emissions,” Neimark said. “The U.S. military has for years been provided carte blanche to emit and access global resources and operating space. This has to end.”