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Go Green with GBO: The massive environmental impact of Gaza conflict

According to the reports, reconstructing Gaza's 100,000 damaged houses using modern construction methods will emit at least 30 million metric tonnes of greenhouse emissions

New research shows that the first two months of the Gaza war generated more planet-warming emissions than more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations’ annual carbon footprint.

A first-of-its-kind analysis by British and American researchers found that Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza generated over 99% of the 281,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2 equivalent) in the first 60 days after the October 2023 Hamas attack.

The study’s climate cost of Israel’s military response’s first 60 days was equivalent to burning at least 150,000 tonnes of coal, based on only a few carbon-intensive operations and likely an underestimate.

The yet-to-be-reviewed analysis covers CO2 from aircraft missions, tanks and fuel from various vehicles, and bombs, artillery, and rockets. It excludes methane and other greenhouse gases. Nearly half of CO2 emissions came from US cargo jets transporting military equipment to Israel.

Hamas rockets fired into Israel during the same period produced 713 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 300 tonnes of coal, highlighting the asymmetry of each side’s war equipment. Exclusive to the British media outlet Guardian, the data provides the first, conservative estimate of the carbon cost of the Gaza battle, which is generating enormous human agony, infrastructure destruction, and environmental catastrophe.

The yearly United Nations’ climate action negotiations ignore military greenhouse gas emissions, which have a substantial part in the climate catastrophe.

According to Benjamin Neimark, a senior lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) and co-author of the research published on Social Science Research Network, this study is only a small part of the aftermath of war, including carbon emissions and toxic pollutants.

Including emissions from the whole military supply chain, previous studies estimate the true carbon footprint could be five to eight times greater.

“The military’s environmental exceptionalism lets them pollute without consequence as if their tanks and fighter jets’ carbon emissions don’t matter,” said Neimark, who collaborated with Lancaster University researchers and the Climate and Community Project (CCP), a United States-based climate policy thinktank.

The battle is worsening the global climate problem. According to the reports, reconstructing Gaza’s 100,000 damaged houses using modern construction methods will emit at least 30 million metric tonnes of greenhouse emissions. This is comparable to New Zealand’s annual CO2 emissions and more than 135 countries and territories, including Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Uruguay.

According to United Nations special rapporteur for human rights and the environment David Boyd, “This research helps us comprehend the vast volume of military emissions – from planning for war, fighting war, and rebuilding after war. Armed violence brings humanity closer to climatic catastrophe and wastes our finite carbon budget.”

Sea level rise, drought, and high heat threatened Palestine’s water and food security. Experts fear that Gaza’s ruined farming, energy, and water infrastructure will have long-term health effects. Construction, which drives global warming, has destroyed or damaged 36%–45% of Gaza’s buildings, including homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and shops.

Military Carbon Emissions Are Unclear

The climate effects of war and occupation are unclear. Due to Washington’s pressure, reporting military emissions is voluntary, and only four nations provide incomplete data to the UNFCCC, which organises the yearly climate negotiations.

Armed forces emit 5.5% of global greenhouse gases, more than the aviation and shipping industries combined, according to recent research without complete data. Even without conflict-related emission surges, the global military carbon footprint is fourth greatest after the United States, China, and India.

Last month, Cop28 in Dubai discussed conflict, security, and climate issues, but it did not address military openness and accountability. War and militarism now have climate costs. The Israeli delegation focused on its growing climate tech business in carbon capture and storage, water harvesting, and plant-based meat alternatives. Gideon Behar, special envoy for climate change and sustainability, said Israel’s biggest contribution to the climate challenge is solutions.

The Guardian reported that Israel’s director of Middle East economic affairs, Ran Peleg, has not addressed estimating IDF greenhouse gas emissions. “This is the first time this issue has been mentioned, and I’m not aware of any ways to count these things.”

The Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority’s climate change office head, Hadeel Ikhmais, said: “We are trying to do our part in the climate crisis but even before the war in Gaza, it is hard to adapt and mitigate when we cannot access water, land or any technologies without Israel’s permission.”

A new study indicates Israel’s baseline military carbon footprint in 2019 was almost 7 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, without conflict, using its defence spending as a proxy. This is similar to Cyprus’ CO2 emissions and 55% more than Palestine’s.

The Israel-Palestine situation was unique before October 2023. Due to the Israeli occupation, siege, population density, and climate catastrophe, most Palestinians in occupied Gaza were food, water, and energy insecure. Israelis have long faced rocket fire.

Researchers analysed the carbon footprint of Hamas and Israel’s war-related concrete infrastructure, walls and tunnels, since 2007 to capture some of the armed setting’s climate impacts.

According to the study, building the Gaza Metro, a 500-kilometre underground network of tunnels used to move and hide basic supplies, weapons, Hamas fighters, and hostages, produced 176,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, more than Tonga emits annually.

The 65km iron wall along Israel’s border with Gaza, which has surveillance cameras, subsurface sensors, razor wire, a 20-metal fence, and massive concrete barriers, produced over 274,000 metric tons of CO2. This is almost as much as the Central African Republic’s 2022 emissions, one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.

The US Has A Role

The US supplies Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, weapons, and equipment for Gaza and the West Bank, which increases military carbon emissions. At least 200 American cargo flights transported 10,000 tonnes of military supplies to Israel by December 4. The study concluded that the flights used 50m gallons of aviation fuel and released 133,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than Grenada’s year.

“The involvement of the US in the human and environmental destruction of Gaza cannot be overstated,” said CCP research director Patrick Bigger.

Not only Gaza. The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War author Neta Crawford found that the US military produced 48 million metric tons of CO2 in 2022. This baseline military carbon footprint, which excludes 2022 Islamic State oil infrastructure strikes, was higher than 150 countries and territories, including Norway, Ireland, and Azerbaijan.

Crawford estimates that 20% of the US military’s annual operational emissions go to preserving fossil fuel interests in the Gulf region, which is warming twice as rapidly as the rest of the world. However, the US and other NATO nations focus on the climate catastrophe as a national security threat rather than its contribution.

In response to the carbon research, Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat declared, “Israel did not desire this war. Hamas, which massacred, executed, and kidnapped over 240 people, including children, women, and the elderly, imposed it on us.”

According to Palestinian climate director Ikhmais, climate change is the most pressing issue confronting Palestine in the next few decades, and the latest escalations in Gaza have exacerbated this. Military attacks increase carbon emissions, contradicting UNFCCC and Paris Agreement goals. Recognising the environmental impact of conflict is vital.

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