Issues of war and militarism featured strongly in the protests and discussions taking place outside the COP conference

Chris Nineham


One of the most outrageous things about the generally dispiriting COP26 conference is that the question of military pollution is effectively excluded from the discussions. Countries are not obliged to report the emissions of their military and emissions caused by overseas military are written out of the global statistics.

The figures are such that this issue on its own is enough to make the COP26 conference redundant.

The US military is the single largest polluting agency in the world. It emits more CO2 than the five biggest US chemical companies put together. Since the start of the War on Terror, the U.S. military has produced 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas, or as much as 257 million passenger cars annually – roughly as many registered vehicles as there are in the entire U.S. That’s a higher annual output than whole countries like Morocco, Sweden, and Switzerland.

That, I repeat, is just the emissions from the US military machine. In most countries, including Britain, the military is by far the most polluting wing of government. As annual global military spending continues to grow to around £2 trillion its toxic impact is increasing every year.

The ecological problem posed by the military of course goes way beyond its carbon boot print. The West’s recent wars have helped to create failed states in the Middle East and beyond making it impossible for those countries to take measures to deal with toxic emissions or even mitigate against the immediate effects of climate change. Meanwhile the enormous resources expended on the military in the first place are resources lost to the most crucial technical and scientific challenge of our times.

For all these reasons it was welcome that for the first time the issues of war and militarism featured strongly in the protests and discussions taking place outside the COP conference.

In the Thursday of the first week anti-war activists from the US and Britain organised an open-air rally in the centre of Glasgow to highlight the issue with speakers from around the world and across the peace movement. Afghan activists and Filipino campaigners joined Greenham Common veterans, the anti-Faslane campaign and national anti-war organisations to point out the absurdity of the excluding the military from the talks.

A representative from Scientists for Global Responsibility pointed out that the military is one aspect of society over which governments have direct control. The fact that the military is excluded from scrutiny shows how committed the world’s governments are to militarism and the extent of the struggle needed to challenge their priorities.

In the days that followed the anti-war issue remained in high visibility. On Saturday’s massive march – almost certainly the biggest demonstration in Glasgow’s history – there was a lively anti-war bloc bringing together Code Pink, World Without War with the Stop the War Coalition, CND and others. ‘War equals warming’ was a slogan that was taken up in different parts of the demo throughout the day. There were anti-war placards and banners scattered throughout the demonstration along with Palestinian flags.

The People’s Summit taking place alongside the formal conference also reflected this change. There were a series of sessions focusing on the impacts of war, militarism and imperialism on the climate with a range of speakers from around the world. These issues have not been raised at previous summits.

All this appears to be part of a wider shift in which the climate moving is coming to terms with the need for structural, society-wide change to deal with the dangers ahead. The most popular slogans amongst activists were ‘climate justice equals social justice’ and ‘system change not climate change’. Connections are being made, a wider picture of society is being developed, and campaigning issues are being integrated. As over one hundred thousand people marched for real action it was on the streets and the halls outside the COP conference that some real hope was generated.

08 Nov 2021

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