Karem Akoul, Project Manager at custom military equipment case manufacturers CP Cases, provides his expertise.

The defence sector is a vital pillar in society, providing stability, safety, and reassurance. The need for reliable and robust defence resources remains as pertinent as ever, with demand unlikely to slow anytime soon. 

With this in mind, the defence sector must make efforts to minimise detrimental environmental impact while future-proofing processes against climate disasters. Looking toward more sustainable methods of operation, the defence sector has an opportunity to invest in improved and more reliable systems of supply while negating further damage to the environment.

Climate challenges faced by the defence sector

Disruption caused by extreme weather events

Climate change presents a number of challenges to the defence sector. A study published by the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC)1 has confirmed the dangers that climate change poses to the future of defence industries, calling for a shift towards more sustainable processes. It revealed the need for national strategies to protect against weather-related natural disasters, which are becoming increasingly common.

These climate hazards, including flooding, storms and extreme temperatures, present a notable threat to the operation of the defence sector. Defence assets, capabilities, logistical operations and civilian entities employed in the operation of critical energy infrastructure (CEI) are all at risk of compromise if the climate risk remains unchallenged. Such disruptions will have increasingly impactful consequences on military activity, reducing its efficiency and capacity for effective operation.

With such uncertainty ahead, it’s essential that the defence sector looks to adopt more sustainable processes to combat shortages in stock and delays in the supply chain while enhancing energy security and autonomy.

Defence’s carbon footprint

Meanwhile, the industry must also play its part in reducing the effects of climate change as a preventative measure. While it’s necessary to prepare contingency plans for the worsening symptoms of global warming, action must be taken now.

The defence sector is a significant consumer of fossil fuels and raw materials, contributing to a major carbon footprint. Defence accounts for 50% of UK government emissions2 and 80% of US government emissions. With the European Green Deal aiming for the European Union to reach climate neutrality and resource efficiency by 2050, the defence sector has a lot of work to do in reversing its contribution to climate change. 

What can be done?

From military-industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, to management and disposal of hazardous waste, the nature of defence necessitates production and use of environmentally-detrimental materials. With this in mind, the industry’s footprint must be offset wherever possible.

Climate-proofing the defence sector

With much of the future success of the defence sector hinging on energy resilience in the face of catastrophic weather events, it’s vital providers achieve energy autonomy, allowing operations to continue where they would otherwise be grounded. 

However, the JRC-EDA report notes the defence sector’s lack of capacity and capability in being able to action any significant change where tackling climate change is concerned, recognising a need for a systematic approach to achieving sustainability. Therefore, the report recommends the incorporation of sustainable measures across multiple facets of the industry, namely operational aspects, capability planning and development, governance, multi-stakeholder engagement, and research, development and innovation.

Reducing emissions

Beyond the JLC-EDA report, there are numerous ways in which the industry could mitigate effects and adapt to climate change. 

  1. On-site renewable energy usage

Small positive changes could include incorporating electric fleet vehicles, to installing renewable energy technologies on defence sites, such as solar panels or wind turbines. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels would mark a significant step in the right direction, and with defence being a significant draw on energy resources, alternative energy sources would both ease strain on energy crises and reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel-generated electricity. 

  1. Education, internal and external communication

At a worker level, industry employees should be provided with education and opportunity for dialogue regarding decarbonisation, diversification and Just Transition, ensuring efforts to curb the sector’s emissions are aligned across the industry. A study conducted by the University of Glasgow3 found that workers were not being consulted by their unions or company leaders, despite expressing interest in developing strategies for achieving sustainability in defence.

Meanwhile, the defence sector has a responsibility to communicate its green strategies to the outside world. The industry is continually scrutinised, and therefore transparency in its sustainability efforts is key. Any doubts could easily be put at ease by proper and clear communication to lay out plans for tangible change.

  1. Inventory-level decisions – building sustainable stock

More environmentally-friendly decisions could also be made at an inventory level, choosing to invest in recycled and recyclable equipment. For example, CP Cases’ sustainably designed Amazon cases are 100% recyclable and manufactured in-house via rotational moulding in an effort to offer environmentally-friendly products to the army. With an additional £16.5 billion4 being allocated to the UK defence budget from 2020/21 to 2024/25, it’s vital that this increased expenditure is as sustainable as possible, making ethical choices to reduce waste and manage stock responsibly.

Time is ticking for the defence sector. A net-zero target by 2050 is no easy task, and with a worsening climate crisis, the industry has a mountain to climb. But, by systematically actioning report-led recommendations, the defence sector has an opportunity to prove its doubters wrong – ‘going green’ while improving the effectiveness of operations.