Budget should cut military spending to address climate crisis and human needs

By Brian Larkin

Today Rishi Sunak released details of the Budget at Westminster. It included an increase in military spending from £42bn in 2020-21 to £46 in 2021-22,  part of a £24bn increase to the military budget over 4 years announced in November.

This boost to military spending, the largest in 70 years – since the Korean War – was specially announced by Boris Johnson back in November in the same week that the government announced it would cut development aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP while it has committed to meeting the target of 2% of GDP on military spending which is being pushed by the NATO and the US.

Photo: Lockheed F-35 Jet fighter Lightning II. Public Domain Mark 1.0

So it came as no surprise this week when, at the UN Yemen donor conference, the UK confirmed that its decision to cut roughly 50% of its support for humanitarian efforts in Yemen.  Britain pledged just £87m – 54% of last year’s donation of £160m, and only 40% of the total funding the UK provided in 2020. According to the Guardian “Yemenis and aid organisations have condemned [this] shortfall in international donor funding”  “as a ‘death sentence’ for people suffering in the country’s civil war.”

And at the same time that it is cruelly cutting aid to Yemen it is defiantly continuing to provide the weapons and logistical military support to Saudi Arabia without which it would not be able to continue to conduct its ongoing war on Yemen, a war that is causing the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. Former Minister Andrew Smith (Conservative) rightly condemned the government for cutting aid but maintained that it is right to continue to sell arms to the Saudis, and, even after stating that our involvement in the war makes us “complicit” in the war crimes, almost unbelievably, claiming that, if we don’t sell them the arms “someone else will”

On another front, this budget will not even come close to providing the funding urgently needed to address the climate crisis. According to Scientists for Global Responsibility, in November, the government announced its ‘ten point plan for a green industrial revolution’ with a budget of £12bn per year, though with only £11bn earmarked for spending in the next four years, averaging £2.8bn per year.

In December, the Committee of Climate Change (CCC) published its analysis of spending to hit reduction targets for carbon emissions, estimating that government spending in this area for 2020-21 was approximately £5bn. This included £2bn devoted to the Green Homes Grant scheme. The latest evidence is that only £0.1bn of the Green Homes scheme will be spent in this financial year, meaning total spending is only £3.1bn. The CCC estimated that annual government spending needs to increase very rapidly to between £9bn and £12bn in order to meet targets for reducing emissions.

In its May 2019 report “Net Zero: The UKs Contribution to Stopping Global Warming” the CCC set out an agenda for reductions needed to reach net Zero GHG emissions by 2050. The Core and Further Ambition options it identifies would only achieve a 96% reduction. What it calls “Speculative Options” which are less easily achievable include: “changes in demand (e.g. in aviation and diets) alongside shifts in land use and other measures.  45 MtCO2e of emission savings would be needed from the Speculative options yet, nowhere in the report is there any mention of military sector emissions. 

According to report by Scientists for Global Responsibility the UK military and weapons industries are responsible for 11 Million Tonnes CO2e emissions, equivalent to that of the annual emissions from 6 million average cars, yet these are not accounted for in the climate plan. But tackling the global climate crisis will require transformational action by all sectors, including the military.  

Overseas deployments with vast troop movements and war games involving jet fighters that consume huge quantities of fuel are intrinsically carbon intensive. Government must consider changes to policies on military force structures and force projection abroad as a way of reducing emissions including reducing the purchase, deployment, and use of military equipment. 

Beyond these two crises there is of course the pandemic. While the government of the UK is moving more rapidly than almost any other country to roll out vaccines some 100 countries around the world have yet to see a single dose. We’re all in this together. As long as COVID19 is not brought under control everywhere we are all at risk. But more than that this is a question of justice. Distribution should be equitable. We must ensure that the most vulnerable people get the vaccine, wherever they live and whether they can pay or not.

It’s clear that the UK is prioritizing an outdated model of national security that benefits arms dealers at the cost of real human security. Capping military spending would be a start towards freeing up the funding needed to address these multiple humanitarian and ecological crises, but in the end, what is needed are deep cuts to military forces and military spending. 

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