From: Issue 38
How Green is Canada's Military?
With climate change a global security threat and rising fuel costs putting pressure on budgets, Canada's armed forces are struggling to adapt
In June of last year, a research team working at the Department of National Defence (DND) put forth four different scenarios for the future. The most dire one envisioned a world besieged by environmental change and resource scarcity, where unstable markets and widespread resource conflict threatened Canada’s safety and sovereignty. If governments do not act in a proactive way to address such global trends this worst-case scenario is likely to become a reality, the report cautioned. But it also declared that by acting with some foresight, Canada could become “a global leader in both the alternative energy and environmental fields,” with the proliferation of defence-related science and technologies acting as one of the key drivers in this shift.
Canada’s armed forces have huge potential to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and, by association, its greenhouse gas emissions. As the federal department with the largest carbon footprint, and as its most significant energy consumer, the DND must adapt to maintain operational efficiency. Its over-reliance on oil and other high-carbon fuels occupies ever-larger portions of the military budget, causes fuel logistics pains and continues to negatively impact the environment.
This pressing need to adapt gives Canada’s military an opportunity to lead on innovation. It can help to create a domestic green energy market, promote the early marketability of alternative fuels and boost commercialization of clean technologies. But if the Canadian Forces are to play a catalytic role in a shift to a sustainable future, what steps are needed? How will Canada’s military adjust to this changing landscape? To what degree can it lead the change?
Militaries around the world, including the Canadian Forces, largely stood by throughout much of the past decade as sustainability gained momentum in government circles, business communities and civil society. Even the most environmentally-engaged political party, the federal New Democratic Party, was more interested in using Canada’s military to defend ecological assets than to change the military from within. As a result, when fuel prices began to rise in 2005, eventually peaking at $147.30 a barrel in July 2008, militaries were hit particularly hard. In one infamous incident, the Canadian navy was forced to cancel a scheduled patrol off the east coast due to navy budget constraints brought on by rising fuel costs. It helped expose a broader truth: that the Defence Department was not adequately prepared for a resource-constrained world.
Dr. Sohbet Karbuz, a military energy analyst and former International Energy Agency official, has observed different reactions from armed forces around the world. “Some militaries, like the French and the Portuguese, treated this issue as an inconvenience, and tried to find temporary solutions that didn’t address the problem. Others, including the Canadian military, quickly realized that this was a long-term problem, and took action.”
At least early on. Our military’s first order of business was to create in early 2008 a new office in charge of monitoring fuel utilization, called the Directorate of Fuels and Lubricants. The tracking of fuel use throughout the armed forces had never been a priority before, so the Canadian military had only a vague sense of its total fuel consumption. The directorate inventoried the fuel use and efficiency of different Canadian Forces assets.
Since then, however, “action” from the Canadian military has significantly lagged many of its global peers. The problem, Karbuz says, stems from paying “too much attention to installation energy (energy consumed in buildings and platforms) rather than operational energy (energy used to run tactical vehicles, especially aircraft and ground vehicles). Almost all operational energy involves oil. As mobility energy accounts for the majority of energy consumption in any modern military, reducing its use should be the priority.”