A Climate of War: The war in Iraq and global warming
Oil Change International
March 2008

Download the full report, A Climate of War (PDF)

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, this report by Oil Change International quantifies both the greenhouse gas emissions of the Iraq War and the opportunity costs involved in fighting war rather than climate change.

Here are some facts on the war and warming:

  1. Projected total US spending on the Iraq war could cover all of the global investments in renewable power generation that are needed between now and 2030 in order to halt current warming trends.
  2. The war is responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) since March 2003. To put this in perspective, CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US this year.
  3. Emissions from the Iraq War to date are nearly two and a half times greater than what would be avoided between 2009 and 2016 were California to implement the auto emission regulations it has proposed, but that the Bush Administration has struck down. Finally, if the war was ranked as a country in terms of annual emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do. Falling between New Zealand and Cuba, the war each year emits more than 60% of all countries on the planet.
  4. Just the $600 billion that Congress has allocated for military operations in Iraq to date could have built over 9000 wind farms (at 50 MW capacity each), with the overall capacity to meet a quarter of the country’s current electricity demand. If 25% of our power came from wind, rather than coal, it would reduce US GHG emissions by over 1 billion metric tons of CO2 per year – equivalent to approximately 1/6 of the country’s total CO2 emissions in 2006.
  5. In 2006, the US spent more on the war in Iraq than the whole world spent on investment in renewable energy.
  6. US presidential candidate Barack Obama has committed to spending“$150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of green energy technology and infrastructure.” The US spends nearly that much on the war in Iraq in just 10 months.

In presenting these calculations, we are not suggesting that greenhouse gas emissions are the most important impact of the war, nor the major reason to oppose it. We are not arguing that a more energy-efficient military would be more effective or justified in its actions, nor suggesting that there aren’t many things besides clean energy on which the US could choose to spend its money.

Rather, in a process comparable to estimating the true cost of the war in dollar terms, we are simply examining an aspect of the war’s impact that has been ignored.

The emissions associated with the war in Iraq are literally unreported. Military emissions abroad are not captured in the national greenhouse gas inventories that all industrialized nations, including the United States, report under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It’s a loophole big enough to drive a tank through.

Estimates of emissions stem from fuel-intensive combat, oil well fires and increased gas flaring, the boom in cement consumption due to reconstruction efforts and security needs, and heavy use of explosives and chemicals that contribute to global warming.

These emissions estimates are very conservative. Throughout our research we have erred on the side of caution, and have simply omitted areas where reliable numbers were not readily available (e.g., military consumption of halons or other greenhouse gas intensive chemicals, and the use of bunker fuels for the transportation of troops and equipment to Iraq). We are confident that ongoing research will reveal more emissions.