Environmental Impact of Explosive Weapons in Gaza

On June 5, World Environment Day, the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy hosted a webinar about the severe and widespread environmental impacts of explosive weapons being used in the genocidal war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Explosive weapons supplied by the United States to Israel (and elsewhere around the world) cause both direct and indirect civilian deaths through environmental destruction and contamination that remain long after the bombs explode.

A recording of this panel is available on the event webpage or on the Center for International Policy’s YouTube channel.

An excerpt from the conversation about the long-term implications of explosive weapons on civilian health, human rights, and global security is below:

What’s happening right now is devastating. Not just the ecological damage – I genuinely worry about the generational effects and the profound health effects that this is going to have in the future, in children, and the cancer rates, and the chemicals that pregnant women are being exposed to… about the long term projections of cancer and pulmonary diseases. These typically have fairly long lag times. For cancer, it’s 20 to 40 years. Now, that could be accelerated by repeat exposures.

My immediate family members were affected by the war [in Iraq]. We had cancer rates spike in our family. You know, I think it’s just a matter of time that we’re going to see a lot of these diseases [in Gaza]. I can only speculate, because we don’t have the capacity to test contamination right now.

This is in large part because we don’t have any more universities in Gaza that are left standing. And so you have the scholasticide on top of the ecocide. And so you really can’t study what is happening.

Because of the ongoing bombing, we’re not able to actually sample the air and sample the soil and sample the water, but what I would imagine is there’s so much heavy metal contamination in the soil that it would probably be rather dangerous to grow anything. And the water situation, on top of dehydration and thirst, and on top of the famine that people are experiencing… With just the sheer amount of bombings, I also worry about the concrete material that is being pulverized over and over and over again.

What we saw immediately in the aftermath of 911 was the increased exposure to a number of not just heavy metals, but you also have asbestos from the buildings, you have building materials, you have pulverized glass, steel, and all these other things… Just from that single event, we saw the ensuing effects over decades. Now Gazans are eight months into this madness and are being exposed to things that I honestly don’t understand, I don’t know…

However, we know that particulate matter doesn’t respect boundaries. It doesn’t respect borders… And so even from just a plain human level, I don’t know who is being exposed to this. I would imagine Israelis, I would imagine people in the surrounding region… The heavy metals are carcinogenic. These things aren’t just going to go away, you have to have efforts in terms of soil remediation. This takes a lot of money, a lot of funding, and a lot of technologies to try and clean it. You know, even in the United States we see Superfund sites, these places become very, very difficult, if not impossible, to really clean.

With military aggression, be it by the United States or by Israel, we tend to see that the environmental effects on civilians aren’t even considered, and this is why these things are so under-studied. I want to make that clear. In Iraq, there were these massive burn pits, just ongoing pits of fire, and the [U.S. military] would just throw everything in there. And that caused so much damage to the atmosphere and the environment. And actually, the only way we know about their health effects is through American soldiers who came home. We do not care – there’s very limited data – on the effects of burn pits on Iraqi civilians. And I think this is very telling of where we are – not only in regard to the overall lack of science regarding lasting military contamination – but that it’s very intentional. 

It’s part of the dehumanization where civilian lives are sort of relegated as less-than, as Iraqis and Palestinians. A lot of people of color are just relegated as such. Sort of, ‘you’re just in the way of the bomb.’ And I think that this is the mentality that intense militarism really is centered around.

Dr. Meena Aladdin, PhD, Molecular Toxicology [comments have been summarized and edited for brevity]

 

Watch the recording here. The full list of webinar panelists includes:

 

Image description and credit: An Israeli army tank deploys near a sunflower field in Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip. © Menahem Kahana, AFP

Can Climate Refugees Find A Home In The Metaverse?

Anmol Irfan is a Muslim-Pakistani freelance journalist and editor. Her work aims at exploring marginalized narratives in the Global South with a key focus on gender, climate and tech. She tweets @anmolirfan22

With a total land mass of fewer than 26 square kilometers across its three coral islands and six atolls, the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is expected to be the first nation in the world lost completely to climate change. Facing this very near threat, authorities are working with international organizations to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as resettling people in other countries like New Zealand. But there’s a third approach being taken as well – creating a digital Tuvalu. At the Cop27 climate conference in November 2022, then-Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe gave a speech where he said that the threat to Tuvalu left them with no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation.

“Our land, our ocean, our culture are the most precious assets of our people and to keep them safe from harm, no matter what happens in the physical world, we will move them to the cloud,” Kofe said in a video. At the time, Kofe hinged the expectations for a digital Tuvalu on the metaverse. Now, almost two years on from his announcement, experts still remain confused as to what that digital nation can really look like, and more importantly if tech like the metaverse is really the future for the climate action movement.

For Tuvalu, becoming a digital nation encompasses multiple aspects, including a digital replica of the country’s landscapes, digital citizenship, and archives of cultural heritage so that the Tuvalese diaspora can stay connected to their identity, and visit a digital replica of the country they were forced to leave behind. They also want citizens to be able to participate in polls and events. Whether all that can be possible is a question of the sustainability impact of such undertakings, the policies surrounding these decisions and the investment of those in power.

“Technology is for the most part perceived to be neutral, though that is not always in fact the case and of course almost any innovation can be used in both positive and negative ways” says Professor Karen Morrow, professor of Environmental Law at Swansea University. She adds, “It’s taken us a long time in human history to reach a point where there’s enough of us and our technology is invasive enough to change the planet. Some things no amount of technology can help reverse, like dealing with polar ice melting, but what technology can do is help us understand the issues better,” especially when talking about how what we really need is pursuing the law and policy around these issues in a way that leads to action.

The metaverse itself might be abandoned before the people of Tuvalu leave their islands and atolls, but the question of a “digital nation” remains. With such little regulation over, or even research around its energy-impact, backing such a large scale project as a digital migration to a virtual space might just do more harm than good. But that doesn’t mean abandoning any such action. Rather, policy makers should focus on the best course of action for the Tuvalu and the Tuvalese diaspora that prioritizes their needs.
 

Virtual safety

For Tuvalu’s case, this digitization offers a means to preservation of artifacts and culture – but on a policy level, there’s still little knowledge of how these digital boundaries can be managed. Manann Donoghoe, senior research associate at Brookings Metro, whose work focuses on climate reparations says that a digital nation cannot be the only solution. “I think for a lot of the people of Pacific Island nations, perhaps it makes more sense to be pursuing a strategy where those people can gain sovereignty somewhere else. Australia, for example, is in talks about settlement agreements which are not perfect but you need to start thinking about where you put these communities,” he says. He’s also wary of the way tech advancements have divided the globe in the past. “Unfortunately, a lot of tech advancements in the past have led to increasing division in Global North and Global South countries. If you don’t have strong policy structures about who has access, who’s using them and how, that could happen again,” Donoghoe adds.

Tuvalu may succeed in creating a digital replica of the landscape in the metaverse, but historically, technological advancements haven’t favored Global South nations, and it’s likely that the people’s experience in that digital replica may be coloured with the impact of that history.

Besides offering a digital home for climate, the metaverse could join other technologies used to fight climate change, if it can shift user behaviors away from emissions-generating activity.  Last year, a Cornell study stated that by replacing the air pollutants, the use of a virtual world through the metaverse could potentially lower greenhouse gas emissions by 10 gigatons, and help lower the global surface temperature by 0.02 degrees. To get there, the metaverse needs to join other technologies that facilitate digital learning, remote working and other digital aspects of everyday life. But what about the policy needed to put this future into action?

“There are huge opportunities for advances in technology to enable policy and action. Using machine learning to analyze satellite imagery or field sensors can help to close data gaps. One recent example is [the World Resources Institute]’s work with Meta where we developed a new algorithm for measuring tree height at global scale. As this work matures, we’ll be able to measure an individual tree’s height anywhere in the world, which is critical for carbon measurement, restoration monitoring, and so much more,” says Evan Tachovsky, the Global Director of WRI’s Data Lab.

But even for something as big as WRI, Meta and technologies work has been largely focused on data and inanimate objects, not people. And unlike other data collected, people cannot and should not be so neatly categorized. Nor can their actions be controlled or limited, and with unchecked environmental impact, the Metaverse at this scale may be a climate disaster waiting to happen.
 

Material Limits

Assistant Professor Robert Verdecchia at the University of Florence worries that policies around technology regulation aren’t sustainable enough for tech to really have a net positive impact. The impact that many optimists are looking for can only be positive when the technology being used isn’t having a negative impact on climate in the first place. “The lack of standards of what sustainable means from an IT perspective then leads in turn to a complete lack of policy, IT is consuming more and more energy and the lack of standardization especially in measurement of sustainability leads to complete lack of policy.”

Which is why Verdecchia and other experts are concerned that not enough policy is being geared towards managing the sustainability and equitable division of AI development. Verdecchia further adds that AI’s energy consumption is currently very high, and that’s not being talked about enough in conversations around taking action.

A 2023 study found that ChatGPT consumes 500 ml of water for every 20-50 simple questions and answers. Another, specifically looking at reducing the carbon footprint of the metaverse, pointed out that training an AI model consumed 284 tons of carbon dioxide, which is more than 5 times the amount of greenhouse gas a car emits in its lifetime. While the research around the metaverse’s energy consumption is much less precise, one comparison can be seen through the energy consumption of transactions. While a credit card transaction in the real world consumes about 149 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, a similar transaction digitally in the metaverse consumes 2189 kWh, which is 14 times that amount.

Precedent also shows that much of the power for development and mitigation both in terms of resources and finances lies in the hands of the Global North, which raises further questions about equity within policy. Currently a major chunk of technology development, whether it be in projects like the metaverse, generative AI or other similar innovations, lies in the hands of private companies, like Google and Microsoft.

Public-private partnerships to involve these developments in climate action might seem like a good way forward when it comes to scaling them up, but Morrow questions whether these would really be true partnerships at all. “Partnership is a word that’s everywhere, you’ll see it used in climate contexts globally. But the word partnership can only be used if you have the same goal. Furthermore, Big Tech is more powerful than many governments, and that’s not a partnership when power isn’t equal,” she says.

So even when countries like the United States, who have more resources, think of funding projects like Tuvalu in the metaverse, they need to reckon with the power private institutions – who don’t always have citizen’s interests in mind – will have in these decisions. That coupled with the still vague environmental impact of such projects creates perhaps too many question marks for this to be seen as a major solution.

There’s other issues like international collaboration, and putting vulnerable communities first to consider as well. Michelle Solomon, senior policy analyst at Energy Innovation, says, “This is something we think about with the transition of communities, particularly like coal plant communities in the US where the situation may be similar to what Tuvalu is facing  in terms of identity loss. Putting communities first and what the communities priorities are is crucial. Ultimately solutions built from the ground up will be most positive and long lasting for the community.”

It’s why Tuvalu’s example needs to become the starting point for governments to start thinking about how technology can actually be used to benefit vulnerable communities. Verdecchia suggests that might be easier in Global South nations away from the strongholds of the major Big Tech companies. While tech may be the answer to some environmental problems, such mass usage of tech that consumes energy on such a large scale cannot be the answer to an already existing climate problem.

Instead of the last word, Tuvalu’s efforts to preserve the nation in the metaverse can be the start of a conversation. Beyond digital preservation, the effort can spur efforts towards resettlement, physical archives and attempts to preserve cultures in other ways that align with the values of the communities that are most vulnerable.

Leading Environmental and Allied Organizations Champion New Climate Guidelines for Federal Purchases

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last week, environmental and allied organizations announced public support for the finalization of two proposed federal contracting rules: the Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule and the Sustainable Products Procurement Rule.

The Supplier Climate Risk and Resilience Proposal would mandate contractors with $50 million or more in annual contract obligations to disclose comprehensive greenhouse gas inventories and emissions reduction targets, while the Sustainable Products Procurement Proposal would require federal agencies to prioritize sustainable products unless justified otherwise in writing. These amendments signal a commitment to transparency, sustainability, and environmental stewardship within federal procurement practices.

Following the delivery of the letter, the White House announced that updates to the Federal Sustainable Products Procurement rule have been finalized. This is a welcome and positive development that enables sensible policies that leverage public purchasing power to address climate change. It represents a vehicle without which the government cannot fulfill its commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship in its fullest. Building on this development, we continue to urge the administration to finalize the proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule to improve and standardize greenhouse gas emissions reporting requirements for federal contractors.

Organizations issued the following statements:

“With greenhouse gas emissions not falling fast enough to meet U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement, public policy will be essential to accelerating the decarbonization of our economy. There are many creative and ambitious policies being studied by both federal and state-level agencies – but all require better data to implement. The new proposed rules with the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council offer a way of gathering that data,” said Yong Kwon, Senior Policy Advisor at the Sierra Club.

“Contractors who seek profitable deals with government agencies should advance our climate goals and national security – not undermine them. We join in urging the DoD, GSA, and NASA administrators to finalize their proposed procurement rules and move us towards a more secure and resilient future,” said Hanna Homestead, Director of the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy.

“Federal procurement policy must urgently address the climate crisis. The Sustainable Products Procurement Rule marks an important step, but it is vital the Biden administration finalizes the Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule as well. Disclosure is essential for the federal government and taxpayers to fully understand federal climate-related risks and opportunities. Pressure to abandon this rule must not prevail— the profits of large contractors and the fossil fuel industry cannot be prioritized over science-based climate policy,” said Elyse Schupak, climate and financial regulation policy advocate with Public Citizen’s Climate Program.

“The federal government has tremendous purchasing power, and thus a tremendous ability to shape the adoption of cleaner materials. These rules will help solidify emissions data transparency and Buy Clean principles for much of the government’s purchasing. The government cannot ignore this critical tool to align markets toward climate mitigation and help set the curve on the innovation and opportunities that will come from setting up cleaner markets and industries,” said Christina Theodoridi, Policy Director for Industry at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

READ THE LETTER:

Continue reading “Leading Environmental and Allied Organizations Champion New Climate Guidelines for Federal Purchases”

New Insensitive Munitions may pose lingering toxic threat

Hanna Homestead is the Director of the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy.

In February, the Washington Post reported the story of Hind Rajab, a six year old Palestinian child who spent the last three hours of her life trapped in a car with seven dead members of her family, pleading for help. The family was following evacuation orders from the Israeli military when their car was targeted. An ambulance was then dispatched to rescue Hind with permission from Israeli authorities. Despite being clearly marked as a medical transport vehicle, radioing its location, and following the approved route provided by the Israeli military, the paramedics came under heavy fire. Further investigation by the Post found the destruction of the ambulance was “consistent with the use of a round fired by Israeli tanks, according to six munitions experts.” The fragment of a US-made 120mm tank-fired round was reportedly found near the charred vehicle, which had a visible foot-wide hole consistent with the exit of a tank projectile.

Given nearly two weeks had elapsed before it was safe to investigate the scene, experts could not definitively verify the fragment was directly involved in the strike. However, satellite imagery proved that Israeli tanks capable of firing 120mm rounds were in the area when the attack on the ambulance occurred. In December, the Biden Administration bypassed Congress – a highly controversial move – to approve the transfer of nearly 14,000 anti-tank 120mm MPAT rounds to Israel despite evidence of ongoing, indiscriminate, and systematic targeting of civilians.

The transfer of US-made explosive weapons, including 120mm MPAT rounds, 155mm artillery shells, and Mark-84 unguided bombs are playing a central role in the Israeli government’s genocidal efforts to “make Gaza uninhabitable,” resulting in Hind’s death as well as more than 30,000 civilians over the last six months. Even spent, the remains of the round poses a toxic risk. Explosive weapons contain chemicals and heavy metals that contaminate water and soil for generations, fueling displacement and food and economic insecurity that threatens regional and geopolitical stability. Both the detonation and production of explosive weapons contribute to severe and long-lasting-environmental contamination, resulting in direct deaths and civilian harm that continues long after the explosions occur. Recent Pentagon efforts to make munitions “safer” for military personnel not only downplay, but threaten to exacerbate these widespread toxic legacies.

Munitions, made in America

Within the US, the production of explosive weapons has resulted in massive amounts of pollution and ecological destruction. There are currently more than 40,000 military sites across US states and territories that are contaminated with toxic military waste and legacy explosives, creating significant and cascading public health challenges. The DoD has already spent more than $40 billion attempting to clean them up, and recent estimates by the Government Accountability Office found the DoD faces at least $91 billion in future environmental liability costs. Historically-marginalized populations are particularly at risk of harm from toxic contamination. Superfund sites are more likely to exist in low-income areas, and are correlated with lower life expectancy in the surrounding communities.

The US is currently in the process of ramping up explosive munitions production to continue arms transfers and to replenish depleted domestic weapons stockpiles after significant amounts of defense equipment were transferred to Ukraine and Israel over the last two years. Not only are production rates increasing significantly, but the DoD is transitioning from producing larger-caliber munitions containing legacy energetic materials (explosives, nominally TNT and RDX) to those made with “insensitive” high explosives (IHE), also referred to as insensitive munitions (IM). Insensitive munitions are designed to be less reactive to stimuli and therefore safer to transport and store, an understandable goal when stockpiling explosives. This function is perceived to be both necessary and advantageous by the DoD and members of Congress interested in producing a larger war reserve to avoid future stockpile depletion.

In December 2023, defense giant BAE Systems was awarded a DoD contract worth $8.8 billion to produce the insensitive high explosive IMX-101 to be used as a “safe and effective” replacement for TNT in new artillery rounds. IMX-101 is the main explosive fill used in new 155mm M795 projectile production – currently one of the most highly sought-after munitions – replacing the legacy 155mm M107 projectile. While the development of IMX-101 has been in the pipeline for decades, the increased demand for ammunition from Ukraine and Israel, as well as competition to modernize vis a vis China, has spurred Congress to “expedite” testing and oversight to hasten the production of weapons made with IHE.

While offering functional advantages, the full impact of insensitive munitions on human and ecological health is not yet known, and what data is available raises concerns. Experts infer that some of the chemical compositions of IHE are likely to differ considerably from legacy explosives in their properties, and “therefore, also in their effect and behavior in the environment.” Yet, the DoD maintains there is limited information in the literature regarding human toxicity and adverse health effects due to exposure to insensitive explosives, including IMX-101. It is also unclear how environmental assessments and data on IHE that do exist are evaluated or incorporated into ongoing IM manufacturing, training, and operational planning. While IM weapons have been described as a way the military can “have [its] cake and eat it, too,” a closer look at the development of the 155mm M795 projectile made with IMX-101 raises a number of concerns.

IMX-101 appeared on the scene in 2010, after being named one of “The 50 Best Inventions of 2010” by TIME Magazine for its promise to replace TNT as a “less dangerous explosive.” Early testing of IMX-101 weapons was fast-tracked from what’s typically a five-year test period to two, and did not include comprehensive assessments of the ecological toxicology of the compound or its residues resulting from its production or operational use. Qualification testing of 155mm projectiles made with IMX-101 generally focused on the weapon’s performance, showcasing how IM projectiles can withstand various catalysts while maintaining lethality when deployed as intended. The results were published along with DoD assurances that “IMX-101 and its ingredients were found to be less toxic than RDX and the IMX-101 detonation products were calculated to be benign.” However, research conducted at the DoD’s Picatinny Arsenal used to certify the low-risk profile of IMX-101 shells has since been retracted due to inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the data. The original DoD 2009 study (no longer publicly available) indicated over 99.99% of all energetic material was destroyed during detonation, signifying the munition did not pose a contamination risk.

Eight years later, subsequent field experiments funded by the DoD Environmental Restoration Program demonstrated that in fact, over 30% of some energetic compounds remain after detonation – meaning the IM shell poses a significantly higher risk of environmental contamination than originally reported. Further DoD research has shown IM munitions deposit more residues than legacy explosives. These residues can persist in the environment for long periods of time following detonation, as research has indicated “the half-life of munition particles was estimated to range between 66 and 228 years for IMX-101.” A revised 2019 toxicology assessment of IMX-101 released by the US Army Public Health Center also points to a number of primary adverse health and reproductive effects on animal and plant life following exposure to IMX-101 compounds and recommends further testing, noting the DoD’s lack of comprehensive and long-term studies on IMX’s human and ecological toxicity. Numerous researchers have since published findings on the toxic effects of IMX-101 and its degraded residues – including their potential to have greater contamination risks than TNT or RDX.

Additionally, while research shows the “dud” rates for IM munitions do not differ significantly from legacy explosives, the DoD’s Defense Systems Analysis Center has indicated the disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) made with IHE, like IMX-101, may require up to 400% more explosives than legacy munitions given their “insensitive” characteristic. This carries significant implications for post-conflict remediation of unexploded ordnance and pollution of military testing sites. UXO must be removed and detonated, otherwise they degrade and leak poison indefinitely, irreversibly contaminating soil and groundwater.

The challenge of UXO removal is of particular concern in Gaza due Israel’s excessive bombing in urban settings, where munitions experts say there is a higher rate of failed detonation. The use of IMX-101 munitions, including the thousands of 155mm M795 projectiles the US is currently supplying to Israel, has the potential to significantly increase the cost of environmental remediation which is already expected to require tens of billions of dollars and take many years to complete. Environmental justice, including the remediation of ecological damage caused by Israel’s heavy bombardment and ongoing siege, will be critical to the safe return of displaced Palestinians to Gaza and to lasting regional peace.

Despite mounting evidence of the need for greater oversight over insensitive munitions modernization, Congress has continued to loosen the reins. The FY 2024 NDAA passed in December established a new Joint Energetics Transition Office within the DoD to “expedite testing, evaluation, and acquisition” of “new” energetic materials. Military personnel in charge of procurement report they have “a lot of freedom to maneuver now” due to the new programs Congress has authorized.

Aftermathematics

The expedited approval and production of new insensitive munitions without adequate understanding, transparency, or planning in regard to their toxicity or long-term contamination risks comes as research is revealing the extensive impact of legacy RDX and TNT contamination on human health and the environment. For decades, the DoD fought against environmental oversight, claiming “environmental cleanups would come at the expense of the safety of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

According to ProPublica reporting, when the US went to war in Iraq in 2003, top Pentagon officials led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attempted to shield the DoD from nearly all environmental oversight measures to preserve “readiness.” Though these efforts failed, throughout the following years the Pentagon sought to undermine accountability for pollution caused by weapons production, including funding and publishing studies downplaying the health and ecological risks of producing legacy explosives. Today’s focus on weapon’s modernization at the expense of adequate environmental testing sounds eerily familiar. In addition to expediting IMX-101 production, the FY2024 NDAA included authorization for the Pentagon to test warheads and propellants using the insensitive energetic material CL20, despite a 2007 DoD study indicating CL-20 residues likely pose a significant toxic ecological risk.

Efforts to clean up contamination caused by legacy weapon’s production and testing are currently underway within the United States, thanks to the persistent organizing of frontline communities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced an additional $1 billion in new Superfund program funding, which includes military sites. Other types of military-related pollution such as radiation exposure due to nuclear weapons development and testing and PFAS contamination are also being recognized as serious public health concerns. Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances from burn pits, which include UXO disposal, are finally being provided with health benefits after decades of denied claims. While much more still needs to be done domestically, there are currently no legal requirements to address toxic legacies of war abroad caused by US weapons that are deployed directly by US troops or transferred abroad. Americans rarely have insights into the devastating and destabilizing long-term effects these weapons have on foreign populations.

The DoD procurement decisions being made today will have long-term, global impacts. Congress must realistically assess the risks of IM procurement and deployment in order to make an accurate judgment on if the marginal tactical advantages outweigh the human, moral, geopolitical, and financial costs of ecological destruction. Further, Congress should take proactive steps to ensure the comprehensive health effects are accurately assessed and publicly disclosed. The production of IM munitions must not continue the destructive history of legacy explosive contaminants – which will impact affected communities in the US and internationally for decades, and potentially permanently. Congressional oversight is especially important now as the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Chevron deference this year, limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate and mitigate pollution harms.

The US also has a terrible track record in regard to remediating environmental war contamination.

Given that available data show that insensitive munitions may be more difficult, expensive, and environmentally harmful to dispose of (potentially requiring 400% more explosives to detonate), Congress should ensure this information is incorporated and budgeted for in post-conflict remediation planning. Considering the US Army’s poor history with UXO disposal via burn pits in the past, Congress should ensure that the Pentagon plans for IMX UXOs before deployment and adopts principles for assisting victims of toxic remnants of war into their operating policies. This matters immediately, from the first responders making perilous rescue runs the moment the guns are silenced. And it matters long term, as bomb disposal crews clean up and people return to make a life out of the rubble.

For too long, the true human and ecological costs of war have been excluded from foreign policy discourse. Weapons are ultimately made for one purpose: to kill. “Insensitive” munitions are no different; their use inevitably contributes to the destruction of each other’s children, our communities, and the biodiversity of our earth on which all life depends. The toxic ecological effects of these weapons must not be regarded as externalities or secondary to their battlefield functionality; environmental contamination negatively impacts conditions for long-term peace and global security and should be included in a realistic accounting of the costs of war. Ultimately, the best way to avoid these horrors – from mass death to environmental degradation to unexploded ordnance – is for policymakers to abide by and uphold human rights, and commit to resolving political disputes through diplomatic means.

Broad-Based Coalition Urges Federal Contractor Climate Disclosure Requirements To Close the Military Emissions Reporting Gap

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Center for International Policy joined 22 foreign policy, climate and grassroots organizations calling on Biden administration officials to urgently finalize the proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule to establish standardized greenhouse gas and climate-risk reporting regulations for federal contractors, including military contractors.

“Improving emissions reporting is widely supported – the Department of Defense itself is one of the three federal agencies who proposed the new requirements,” said CIP’s Climate and Militarism Program Director Hanna Homestead. “While more must be done to decarbonize and demilitarize US foreign policy, the proposed rule is an important first step towards accounting for and mitigating the military’s climate impact.”

Amid growing concerns about the unfolding climate crisis from the public, frontline communities, and cross-cutting experts, significant gaps in information about how US government contractors contribute to the problem prevent accountability and actionable solutions.

“A key way the US government can protect national security is to stop funding corporations driving the climate crisis without accountability,” added Homestead. We cannot address climate change – our greatest collective global threat — as long as defense contractors are allowed to pollute with impunity, contributing to the very instability we say we wish to solve.” 

The United States has contributed the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change today. While military contractors receive the bulk of federal procurement spending and emit more carbon pollution than the Pentagon, they are not currently required to comprehensively report on their carbon footprints.  

Download the letter here (with citations). Text of the letter is below.

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March 26, 2024

The Honorable Bill Nelson
Administrator
NASA
300 Hidden Figures Way SW
Washington, DC 20546

The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

The Honorable Robin Carnahan
Administrator
General Services Administration
1800 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20405

Dear Secretary Austin, Administrator Carnahan, and Administrator Nelson,

We write on behalf of a diverse coalition of foreign policy, peace, and grassroots organizations to express our strong support for finalizing the proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule in a timely manner. This rule will establish a solid foundation to inform and strengthen the federal government’s carbon emissions mitigation efforts in line with President Biden’s whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis. We applaud your efforts to improve federal contractor transparency, taxpayer oversight, and national and global security by prioritizing effective, publicly-supported action to address the climate crisis. In keeping with your proposal, we look forward to seeing this rule finalized expeditiously.

The adverse effects of climate change, which are already being felt, pose significant challenges to national and global security. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, “Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis. We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does.” To avoid the worst effects of a warming planet, the consensus within scientific and security communities is clear: we must take urgent action to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the ultimate drivers of climate change.

The proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule would advance this goal by requiring the largest federal contractors to disclose their Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions, their climate-related risk assessments, and their science-based emissions reduction targets. Improved disclosure and standardization of greenhouse gas emissions reporting is critical to mitigating the federal government’s carbon footprint, and military emissions in particular. The Pentagon is the world’s largest oil consumer, accounting for approximately 80 percent of federal energy use. The top defense contractors, together, are estimated to emit even more carbon pollution than the Pentagon but are not currently required to comprehensively disclose their emissions. Defense contractors are also the largest recipients of federal procurement spending – totaling more than $466 billion in 2023., While greater action must be taken to reduce the military’s overall ecological impact, closing the gap in military emissions reporting is a critical first step to adopting a meaningful climate change mitigation strategy for a more secure and resilient future.

In addition to the Pentagon’s own interests in tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions among defense contractors, the American public overwhelmingly supports greater climate action. Two-thirds of adults say large businesses and corporations are doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change and 56 percent believe federal government action on climate change is insufficient. Accordingly, public comments on the Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule were overwhelmingly positive. Diverse comments from the private and public sectors show that the proposed rule will help the federal government address informational gaps on climate-related financial risk and plan against threats to economic and national security posed by global warming. The comments highlight the rule’s long-run cost savings for taxpayers and the perils of ignoring the environmental transition risks of climate change in the federal procurement process. Attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia, as well as legal experts in academia and various non-governmental organizations, affirm the rule’s strong legal basis. In contrast, opposition to the rule is being driven primarily by corporations and trade associations representing carbon-intensive industries, including the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, who face reputational risks from enhanced climate disclosure requirements. We must not allow these firms to further jeopardize our collective health and security in order to maintain their own short-sighted profitability.

The fossil fuel and defense industries should not overrule public interest, scientific consensus, and security expertise by dictating government policy. Contractors who seek lucrative deals with government agencies must advance our climate, economic, and national security interests – not undermine them. This rule signifies progress towards achieving President Biden’s goal of reaching a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Agreement, and the Administration’s commitment to “meeting the moment” by taking urgent action to address the climate crisis both at home and abroad., We therefore urge you to finalize and publish the Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule in a timely manner.

Signed,

350.org
American Friends Service Committee
Center for International Policy
Climate Crisis & Militarism Project, Veterans For Peace
Climate Generation
Climate Hawks Vote
Common Defense
Elders Climate Action
Foreign Policy for America
Foreign Policy In Focus
Freedom Forward
Georgia WAND Education Fund, Inc.
MADRE
MPower Change
National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies
Presente.org
RootsAction.org
Sierra Club
The People’s Justice Council
Union of Concerned Scientists
Veterans For Peace
Win Without War
Women for Weapons Trade Transparency