Menu Menu

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an ecological disaster

According to new research, the planet-warming emissions generated during the first two months of the war in Gaza were greater than the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.

It’s no secret that war is bad for the environment, with toxic chemicals left polluting soil and water for decades after the fighting has ceased.

What’s often not considered, however, is the long-term impacts of planet-heating emissions from armed conflicts on the climate, an issue that has experts increasingly concerned as Israel continues to drop bombs on Gaza.

This is because, according to new research, the amount of carbon dioxide generated during the first two months of the conflict was greater than the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.

As it states, the vast majority (99 per cent) of the 281,000 metric tonnes of CO2 that’s estimated to have been released into the atmosphere in the initial 60 days of Israel’s military response can be attributed to the air strikes and ground invasion the Hamas have carried out in Gaza – equivalent to burning at least 150,000 tonnes of coal.

The data includes CO2 from aircraft missions, tanks, and fuel from other vehicles, as well as emissions generated by making and exploding the bombs, artillery, and rockets.

It has been published amid growing calls for greater accountability of military greenhouse gas emissions (militaries account for almost 5.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually – more than the aviation and shipping industries combined), which play an outsize role in the ecological emergency but are largely kept under wraps.

At present, military organisations are not required to report climate emissions under international treaties, despite them operating highly carbon-intensive equipment and being large consumers of oil-derived products.

‘This study is only a snapshot of the larger military boot print of war, a partial picture of the massive carbon emissions and wider toxic pollutants that will remain long after the fighting is over,’ says co-author Benjamin Neimark.

‘The military’s environmental exceptionalism allows them to pollute with impunity, as if the carbon emissions spitting from their tanks and fighter jets don’t count. This has to stop, to tackle the climate crisis we need accountability.’

Additionally, the new research calculates that the carbon cost of rebuilding Gaza’s 100,000 damaged buildings using contemporary construction techniques will generate at least 30m metric tonnes of warming gases.

This is equivalent to New Zealand’s annual CO2 emissions and higher than 135 other countries and territories like Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Uruguay.

Between 36 per cent and 45 per cent of Gaza’s buildings – homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and shops – have so far been destroyed or damaged, and construction is a major driver of global heating.

‘This research helps us understand the immense magnitude of military emissions – from preparing for war, carrying out war and rebuilding after war,’ says UN special rapporteur for human rights and the environment, David Boyd.

‘Armed conflict pushes humanity even closer to the precipice of climate catastrophe, and is an idiotic way to spend our shrinking carbon budget.’