The 28th climate Conference of Parties (COP28) marked a day for Relief, Recovery, and Peace in the two-week-long summit, ushering in the dimension of conflict to a climate platform that has typically side-stepped the issue.
The war in Palestine, unfolding around 2,400 kilometers away from the COP’s venue in Dubai, has weighed heavily on the sidelines of the conference this year. On December 2, several world leaders used the COP28 as a platform to appeal for peace, reductions in military spending and a ceasefire. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on the sidelines of the COP and emphasized India’s support for a two-state solution and using dialogue and diplomacy for a resolution to the ongoing crisis which has seen more than 15,000 people killed since the war broke out in October.
The COP28 presidency launched a Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace on December 3, a voluntary call for “bolder collective action to build climate resilience…in highly vulnerable countries and communities, particularly those threatened or affected by fragility or conflict.” The declaration opens the door to wider conversations around climate change and war, experts say.
“Since COP26 in Glasgow, there have been efforts to collectively raise the issue of military spending and emissions on this platform, which is slowly making progress,” said Deborah Burton, co-founder of Tipping Point North South, an organization working at the intersection of demilitarization and climate change.
“The invasion of Ukraine is when the world, and especially the media, could see the climate impact of conflict. Now we are seeing it in Gaza,” said Burton.
The Russia-Ukraine war disrupted global supply chains of oil and gas in 2022, escalating their prices and resulting in several European countries expanding their fossil reserves in the name of energy security. The escalating conflict in Palestine has now put the spotlight on emissions and environmental damages resulting from war — a matter that the climate talks have excluded from mandatory disclosures since 1997.
Climate mitigation in Palestine
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, conducted a satellite survey over the Gaza Strip, which is facing intense hostile activities from Israel after the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. It found that though solar power was more resilient than traditional sources, it was still vulnerable to destruction due to the war.
Large-scale solar infrastructure of two megawatts (MW) was destroyed in Gaza, as well as a German-funded wastewater plant “which had only opened in April 2023,” the survey says, adding, “satellite imagery of a one square mile sample area in Gaza city taken on November 11, 2023, showed that 17 of the 29 largest rooftop solar systems had either been destroyed or showed external damage.” According to the survey, Gaza has one of the world’s highest densities of solar rooftop installations.
Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate expert from the West Bank and a member of Palestine’s Environment Quality Authority, who is in Dubai for the COP28, told Mongabay-India that the war-torn country was still committed to its climate mitigation targets but that many of its projects had been destroyed.
Ikhmais said a handful of Palestinian officials made an effort to come to COP28 to demonstrate the difficulties of pursuing climate mitigation and energy security while under occupation. The COP28 is the first time Palestine has a pavilion of its own, which visitors are free to visit to learn more about the country’s climate actions.
Ikhmais said the government wanted to make its presence felt at the conference, even though it will not be participating in negotiations this year. “We came with a different agenda, but all that had to be changed,” she said, adding, “We consider this a challenge, not something to stop us from implementing our projects. We have to restart, reinvent adaptation and mitigation action in the Gaza strip.”
The effects of climate change have made Israel and Palestine more prone to drought due to reduced rainfall. “We have barely emitted any carbon. We do not have any major industries or even produce electricity. We really need finance to adapt to climate change under occupation,” said Ikhmais.
Military emissions at the COP
World leaders are focused on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, which means a 43% drop in emissions by 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But the full extent of emissions from military operations — estimated to contribute around 5.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions — are not counted in the UNFCCC’s political process.
In 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated, the U.S. lobbied to exclude military operations from emissions inventories, a move that some developing countries opposed at the time. The exemption was ultimately granted, even though the U.S. never officially ratified the Kyoto Protocol. “It was not until 2015 at the Paris summit that Parties allowed for emissions to be reported and accounted for. But like most things in the Paris Agreement, it is voluntary. So, you get some reporting, but it’s very untransparent and very incomplete,” said Nick Buxton, a researcher with the Transnational Institute.
A report by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University estimated the first 12 months of the Ukraine war would trigger around 120 million tons of greenhouse gases. “You can be sure that the military emissions of Israel are going up considerably now,” said Buxton.
Military spending crossed $2.2 trillion in 2022. Activists and researchers are now calling for a fraction of this sum to be diverted to climate finance instead of further militarization.
According to Burton of the Tipping Point North South, the topic of emissions arising from conflict and military operations is “rising up the agenda” of COPs. Her organization has made a submission to the UNFCCC secretariat to include the issue in the Global Stocktake — an exercise assessing the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
“After Ukraine we have been able to have these conversations with key decision makers in different parts of the UNFCCC process,” she said, adding, “We are pushing for an IPCC special report on the role of the military in climate change and conflict emissions, which we hope will work out.”
This story was produced as part of the 2023 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in Mongabay India on 5 December 2023 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Young climate activists at a protest outside the COP25 venue in Madrid in 2019 / Credit: Kartik Chandramouli for Mongabay.