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“Climate Collateral”: How Military Spending Fuels Environmental Damage

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As the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is underway, we look at how military spending accelerates the climate crisis. Wealthy nations’ investments in armed forces not only exacerbates pollution but also often surpasses their climate financing by as much as 30 times, according to a new report by the Transnational Institute. It shows the money is available, “but it’s been dedicated to military spending,” says co-author Nick Buxton. Governments that import arms, like Egypt, are motivated by the desire for legitimacy and the “power to crack down on the civil society,” adds Muhammad al-Kashef, human rights lawyer and migration activist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

We turn now to look at the link between military spending and the climate crisis. A new report by the Transnational Institute examines how military spending and arms sales not only increase greenhouse gas emissions, but also divert financial resources and attention away from tackling the climate emergency.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by two co-authors of the report, but first this is a short video produced by the Transnational Institute.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: My name is Muhammad. I’m a human rights lawyer, researcher and migration activist. I have been born and raised in Egypt, until I left the country in 2017 because of the risks and the threats that I faced personally because of my activism and work. When I left Egypt and became an exile, I felt like a tree that you took out of the soil.

Egypt is in the international spotlight today for hosting the world’s most important climate talks. But the fact that its host is the military dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it says a lot about the world’s most powerful nations’ real priorities. Sisi’s regime survives thanks to a huge flow of oil, arms and EU money.

The richest and most polluting countries today spend 30 times as much on military as they do on climate finance for the world’s most climate-affected people. Rather than providing aid, these same rich countries are interested in providing weapons and arms to countries like Egypt. And every dollar of military spending is also worsening the climate crisis.

A militarized nation like Egypt and an accelerated arms race globally is the opposite of climate justice. We cannot allow my experience and the experience of many other Egyptians to become the model for how we respond to an escalating climate crisis. Climate justice requires democracy, human rights, dignity and demilitarization. It requires a world that puts people before profits and peace before war.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a video produced by the Transnational Institute, which has just published the new report, “Climate Collateral: How military spending accelerates climate breakdown.”

We are joined now by two guests. Nick Buxton is a researcher at the Transnational Institute, joining us from Wales, and Muhammad al-Kashef is an attorney and migration activist living in Germany.

Nick, let’s begin with you. Why don’t you lay out the findings of your report, that looks into military spending, arms and weapons sales from the world’s richest nations, and the deep impacts that it has on countries’ capacity to address the climate catastrophe that the world is facing right now?

NICK BUXTON: Yes. Thanks, Amy. Thanks for the invitation to be on your show.

This report, as you know, is coming on the back of big discussions at this COP, which we just heard about in this earlier section, about the need that the poorest countries, who are most impacted by climate change, are saying that we need finance to both adapt to climate change and to deal with the loss and damage. And we hear John Kerry — you were just quoting the earlier clip — saying, “Name me a nation that has trillions of dollars to deal with this,” except — basically saying washing his hands of the situation and refusing to accept some responsibility.

And yet, what this report shows is that there is trillions of dollars. The richest countries, which are called Annex II countries under the U.N. climate talks, have dedicated $9.45 trillion to military spending in the last eight years, between 2013 and 2021. And that is 30 times more than they have dedicated to climate finance. And they’re still not delivering on their promises to deliver the $100 billion a year that was promised way back in 2009 now. So, what we’re seeing, firstly, in this report is that there is resources, but it’s been dedicated to military spending.

The second main finding is that, of this military spending, it is very much tied to a very high-emitting situation, that we’re creating greenhouse gases with every dollar we spend on the military. And that’s because the military depends, with its jets, its tanks, its ships, on high levels of use of fossil fuels. So, for example, the F-35 jet, which is the main fighter jet that the U.S. is now deploying, uses 5,600 gallons of liters an hour in its deployment. And these weapons, which are bought, then are usually in operation for 30 years, so it’s locking in that carbon for a long time to come. So, we’re creating a situation where actually the military is contributing deeply to the crisis.

And then the third main finding of the report was looking at what the richest countries, the Annex II countries, are doing in terms of arms sales. We actually found out — found that the richest countries are supplying arms to all 40 of the most climate-vulnerable countries. So, what we’re seeing is we’re not providing the finance that we need for the poorest countries, but we are providing arms. In a situation of climate instability and in terms of a real poverty and people really facing on the frontlines of climate change, we’re actually adding fuel to the fire by providing the arms that could lead to conflict. And this, as the video shared, is the complete opposite of climate justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the armed forces and fuel consumption, Nick?

NICK BUXTON: Yeah. There’s a report just came out actually just a couple of days ago, which has been estimating how much the military contribute towards emissions. And it calculates that the world’s military contribute 5.5% of the total emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. If it was considered a country, it would actually come fourth, so it’s just after Russia in terms of how much emissions that they produce. So, it’s a very substantial contribution to the problem. The Pentagon in the U.S. is the single largest institutional emitter of carbon emissions. And the 5.5%, for example, is double what is produced by civil aviation.

And what is really shocking is that within the U.N. system, it is not properly counted. So it’s one of the few bodies and organs that doesn’t have to report all its emissions to the UNFCCC and the IPCC. And that was because the U.S., under the Bill Clinton administration, actually carved out an exemption for the Pentagon. So, at the moment, that exemption — in 2015, it was watered down so now they can report it, but it’s not — it’s still voluntary, and we still have a very incomplete picture of actually how many emissions are produced.

So, this is one of the key demands that is being raised at the COP, is that we’re doing some estimates that it’s a really significant player, but it’s absolutely crucial that it becomes mandatory for the military to provide it and to show all their emissions, not just of the emissions of their equipment, but also the supply chains of the arms sales and so on, because we do know that these systems are very highly tentative users of fossil fuels, and they’re also very much embedded in a system that has been protecting the fossil fuel economy globally for a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Muhammad al-Kashef into this conversation. Muhammad, Egypt is the third-largest importer of weapons in the world, one of dozens of countries that has received more and more military aid, arms and weapons from the United States, from the European Union, as well as from other rich nations. How has this contributed not only to the worsening pollution and the impacts of the climate crisis in the country and the world, but also to serious human rights violations committed in Egypt by the Egyptian military?

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: OK. Thank you.

Actually, Egypt has spent nearly $50 billion on purchasing weapons since 2014, just soon after the military returned to the power in 2013. And since 2017, it has been one of the top five arms-importing countries. In the last three years, it’s ranked as the third highest, third. And actually, in two major deals, Egypt paid around 5.2 billion euros in 2015 and 4.2 billion euros in 2021.

As we all see, and it’s not hidden, the economical situation that Egypt is facing and the suffering that Egyptian people see and struggle with since 2016, but also, when we talk about the human rights situation and we’re talking about the situation inside the country itself, this country kind of shaped and controlled by every level by the military, which not only the every level of state bureaucracy, but also controls large sector of the economy and the open spaces.

And I’m sure now, like, COP27 just shedding the light on Egypt, and luckily there is a civic space that the human rights defenders, the people still living in Egypt, can speak loudly and transfer their voices to the outer world. Unfortunately, these arms deals and all this money involved give the Egypt and the Egyptian state kind of legitimacy and international support that give them the power to crack down on the civil society to keep over 60,000 — referring to Amnesty report in 2016, more than 60,000 political prisoners in detention. We see actually just one figure, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, just one figure, just one political prisoner, who got support and who is just lucky to have some people talking for him. And we see how the Egyptian state actually respond to such demands.

So, that’s what we are seeing, actually. The world and the European member states, the U.S.A. and even the Russia, all of them just closing their eyes of the violations that happen inside Egypt, because of all these deals, because of the interest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Kashef, if you could — if you could talk more about where we are right now, where we are — you’re in Germany, we are in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt — and about what this place sort of represents? For many, they don’t even have a sense that they’re in Egypt. It is such a different place, so isolated.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: Actually, Egypt is not isolated. Egypt is in the middle of everything, like in the middle of East. It’s —

AMY GOODMAN: I meant Sharm el-Sheikh.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: Yeah, Sharm el-Sheikh actually is a really nice touristic resort. This does not reflect the real situation in Egypt, in Delta, in Cairo and Alexandria and North Coast. Sharm el-Sheikh is just a part of heaven, if we want to discuss that. And actually, it’s crazy, because there is no transparency, no democratical accountable or process holding the Egyptian state the responsibility for what happened. To invite all these people to Sharm el-Sheikh and let them enjoy their time in such a resort, I would say this is just not just a greenwashing, but also this is a big lie.

AMY GOODMAN: You also are a major advocate for refugees. Can you talk about climate refugees? The same rich nations that are creating conditions that cause people to flee, investing then billions of dollars in militaries and borders, and preventing them from coming to the fossil fuel-emitting nations.

MUHAMMAD AL-KASHEF: Yeah, sure. Actually, when we see that, it’s a kind of a closed circuit, and we are going in dilemma. Biggest states are expending more money and expending too much billion dollars and euros in the arms, and then we see the military [inaudible] and how it affect on the climate, and find like displaced people and refugees are leaving their home and their countries to find a better place to live, to find someplace still livable, in a sense. And then, instead, actually, of spending money and spending resources to correct the situation and to face the crisis, no, the states are spending more and more money in militarization — in the militarization, in militarizing the border, in the border security.

And that’s actually really sad, because we see that the crisis is kind of affecting us all. And we need really to find a solution, to find a better solution. What we see in Africa now, it’s also going to Mediterranean, because in the Mediterranean, big sector of fishermen, big sector of communities are losing their source of finalizing and affording living. And what we are witnessing actually in Pakistan and the floods in Pakistan and what’s happening, this is all actually kind of impact of our wrong policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’re certainly going to link your report. Muhammad al-Kashef is an attorney and migration activist, speaking to us from Germany. Nick Buxton, researcher at the Transnational Institute — they are co-authors of “Climate Collateral: How military spending accelerates climate breakdown” — also co-author of The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World.

Next up, we look at the movement to stop a major oil pipeline in East Africa, stretching from Uganda to Tanzania. It’s called EACOP. Back in 30 seconds.

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