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All History of US Environmental Policy

Policy brief

Title: Toward Open Military Carbon Accounting Transparency / Carbon-Reducing Advance Market Procurement (TOMCAT/CRAMP)

Summary for Policymakers

  • Department of Defense (DoD) leadership has repeatedly marked climate change a key national security threat, greatly damaging our country’s military readiness.
  • Estimates of military carbon emissions place it in at least the low single digits of global emissions, a double-digit percentage of domestic omissions, and the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world. While the federal government is working toward net zero emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Department of Defense has been exempt from making complete inventory of emissions or reaching net zero. This omission represents a key gap toward (inter)national reductions.
  • To improve transparency, the DoD should do a full count of carbon emissions, and publish non-confidential inventories publicly alongside other government agencies.
  • To comply with the nation’s commitments in the Paris agreement, the DoD should set its emissions on a trajectory compatible with the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming target.
  • To accelerate future progress of emissions reductions via a public-private partnership, the DoD should establish advance market commitments (AMCs) for high-quality carbon removal (negative emissions) and decarbonized key materials, including aluminum, steel, and concrete.

Problem Statement

The climate crisis. As described in the October 2018 report entitled “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° C” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment report found the current warming trajectory is on track to cause a litany of climate disasters, including the potential for losses in some domestic economic sectors that could reach hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of this century, expose hundreds of millions of people to deadly heat stress by 2050, increase poverty and migration conflicts, and risk of damage to $1 trillion worth of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the U.S.

The DoD’s previous statements. In January 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated the Department of Defense “will immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments, to mitigate this driver of insecurity” (Austin). He has repeated stated climate change to be “a national security issue.”

The federal net zero plan. In December 2021, President Biden wrote an Executive Order stating, “The Federal Government faces broad exposure to the mounting risks and costs already posed by the climate crisis. In responding to this crisis, we have a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity to create and sustain jobs” (Biden). This order included provisions for zero carbon electricity, net zero buildings, and lower-carbon procurement, among others. While the released fact sheet does note carbon reductions from the Department of Defense, the executive order “exempts anything related to national security, combat, intelligence or military training” (Aton). And though the agency’s 2022 sustainability plan does show intention to follow these climate program pillars, the organization is not legally responsible for these actions. Additionally, under a less climate-conscious future administration, this progress could be reversed.

The DoD’s contribution to global emissions. Public reports place military emissions around 80% of the federal government’s energy use, and the DoD is considered to be the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world. The latest public inventories of emissions at 51 million metric tons annually (Crawford 151). But these numbers are based on fuel and electricity purchases (Scopes 1 + 2, in the GHG Protocol), excluding the manufacturing of weapons, transportation, healthcare, disposal, food, construction, contractors, cloud/IT, recruitment, and other massive categories of emissions. Without these categories included, the order of magnitude of emissions is up for debate, but researchers peg them in the mid single digits of global annual emissions (Lin and Burton). This global cost is not necessary for the U.S. to maintain its national security, and the Department’s longtime enthusiastic, industrious attitude to new challenges and array of contractors known for constant technological innovation means it is well-positioned to handle the research & development needed for large-scale decarbonization.

Availability of materials to decarbonize military operations. For the military to reduce emissions intensity—as in, not scale down operations but accomplish the same feats with less carbon emitted, lower-carbon building materials and technologies need to be deployed. While some operations can be electrified and clean power can decarbonize them, the building of bases, planes, aircraft carriers, boats, tanks, runways, helicopters, and other equipment relies on low-carbon materials. The quantities of materials including aluminum, steel, cement, among others, available with markedly lower embodied carbon emissions than conventional sources, are insufficient for the scale the military demands, and cost more than conventional materials.

Availability and impact of existing carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies. CDR became commercially available within the last decade, and the market remains in its infancy: the global capacity of direct air capture, a prominent CDR technology, is a mere 0.01 Mt  CO2/year (IEA). For removing the emissions of the military’s fuel use, much less its total carbon footprint, it needs to scale up by orders of magnitude.

Increasing energy costs for the military. Fossil fuel-based energy sources including coal, gas, and oil are commodities, which fluctuate in price, are sensitive to international market events, and require a continuous flow other countries can purposefully interfere with to weaken our military. In contrast, renewable energy sources are technologies: the price of their equipment drops each year, then they can dependably produce electricity thereafter without easy opportunities for interference. Energy is one the of the primary costs of the military, and projections of fossil fuel prices this century indicate prices are likely to rise. Securing our own renewable energy supply safeguards our military’s budget.

International material sourcing needs. In 2020, the Department of Defense spent $107B on aircraft (DiNapoli), including sourcing over 30 million pounds of aluminum (Sheller), or 3% of the country’s demand (Platzer and Peters). The U.S. has fallen behind globally on aluminum production, partially due to higher electricity prices. Aluminum, among other materials, are crucial to the continued success of the military, and the production having escaped American shores creates a security vulnerability.

The carbon removal market. Similar to the aluminum market, carbon removal strategies like direct air capture tend to set up in regions with the cheapest, greenest electricity. As the CDR market takes off, the U.S. is not guaranteed to be that market. The production of the renewable energy equipment and the installation/operation of CDR facilities are economically beneficial forces the United States should capture domestically.

Policy Recommendations

First, re-introduce the 117th Congress’s H.Res.767: “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that it is the duty of the Department of Defense to reduce the overall environmental impact of all military activities and missions, and for other purposes.” This calls on the DoD to fully account carbon emissions and begin making emissions reductions in line with the Paris agreement. The inventory should begin for the next military fiscal year (2025); the reductions will gradually but increasingly set in over the following years.

Second, under Title III of the Defense Production Act, the President shall create advance market commitments (AMCs) for carbon removal and zero or low-carbon variants of key supply materials, including aluminum, steel, and concrete. Advance Market Commitments are an economic technique to incentivize the development of early technologies and bring them down their “cost curves”: similar to how computer chips and solar panels have become dramatically cheaper as manufacturing scaled up, the same is true of these materials. AMCs guarantee a market for early entrants, allowing them to scale up faster knowing customers are waiting, instead of acting more conservatively. The public-private AMC partnership for the COVID vaccine spurred competing companies to develop effective vaccines and be ready to roll out at the necessary scale as quickly as possible; the urgency of climate change commands a similar technique for emissions reductions.

Similar to the FAA’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel plan and qualifications put out by the EPA’s Greener Products program, the material AMCs will require materials with at least 50% lower carbon intensity than industry averages, and come with a domestic sourcing mandate. The carbon removal AMC will come with industry-recommended quality standards, including additionality, permanence, verifiability, and durability, similar to the private sector AMC for carbon removal, Frontier.

Policy Implications

Requiring the DoD to complete comprehensive carbon accounting on an annual basis of all operations, including military contractors, and to release a summary of that information to the public will greatly improve transparency on national emissions. Researchers are estimating the carbon impact of the military with little concrete data on operations and next to none on contractors or supply chain, and the numbers are important for understanding global emissions trends. Utilizing standard frameworks such as TCFD and the GHG Protocol for this inventory would set the standard for other countries’ militaries to follow, leading by example on the world stage. While there would be a cost to hiring the needed lifecycle carbon analysis experts at the Pentagon, it would be negligible. Without militaries of comparable size in other countries, revealing the exact fuel/carbon qualities is unlikely to cause second-order effects.

Reducing military carbon emissions has a myriad of long-term benefits. Notably, it would save money on future climate adaptation across the federal government, DoD, and country. A majority of the our ~800 military bases—half a million buildings—reside in coastal areas, concentrated closer to the equator, in the places climate impacts like sea level rise, increasing temperatures, and extreme weather render the most damage. Military buildings will bear greater, more imminent consequences from climate change, and therefore see the most benefit in reduction of adaptation (rebuilding and renovating) costs. This rebuilding costs the nation military readiness, by moving troop, base, and management attention away from readiness and improvement to logistical maintenance. These costs total tens of billions in the short term. The current fossil fuel infrastructure also renders safety threats on U.S. troops, requiring armored fuel transportation in combat zones, putting a target on troops, which can be mitigated by reduced usage and energy independence from renewables. Renewable energy installations on bases increase operational resilience, lower energy costs, and mitigate harmful air pollution—exposure to which has future associated veteran healthcare costs.

While these reductions would have associated costs in architecture and land use planning at bases, equipment redesigns and testing, operational expertise, and more, they would cause re-evaluation inside the military of long-standing equipment designs, rebuilding with the latest technologies to maintain the U.S. Armed Forces’ competitive edge. Emissions reductions mitigate the future need for expensive, resource-intensive carbon removal to reverse global warming, while the re-alignment to the Paris commitment would continue asserting U.S. power globally as a climate leader, increasing political pressure on China to follow.

Setting up resource AMCs, including steel, aluminum, concrete, and carbon removal, would provide necessary tools for the military and the largest economic sectors to reach carbon emissions reduction targets, by innovating in the development and bringing down the cost of key material supplies. Expanding the markets pushes these technologies down their cost curves earlier, reducing costs associated with these technologies, allows more widespread deployment at lower cost in the future. This includes rendering them more accessible to states, cities, and companies needing to purchase the same materials, helping the country reach its Paris goals. These AMCs would help the DoD to reach emissions targets through a public-private partnership, accelerating the development of these low-carbon and carbon removal technologies, creating jobs, attracting talented scientists and engineers from other countries, and starting new companies that aid economic growth. It would reduce national security risk of relying on trade partners including China for materials like aluminum that aircraft, electronics, and weaponry supplies depend upon. Finally, it would provide environmental justice by undoing previous carbon emissions presently causing damage to the most vulnerable populations domestically and abroad, furthering the military’s humanitarian focus.

Works Cited

Aton, Adam. "Military exempt from Biden order to cut federal emissions." E&E News, December 22, 2021,

Austin III, Lloyd J. "Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad." U.S. Department of Defense, January 27, 2021,

Biden, Joseph. "Executive Order on Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability." White House, December 8, 2021,

Crawford, Neta. The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions. October, 2022, The MIT Press,

DiNapoli, Timothy J. "A Snapshot of Government-Wide Contracting For FY 2020 (infographic)." U.S. Government Accountability Office, June 22, 2021,

IEA (2022). “Direct Air Capture.” IEA, 2022,

Lin, Ho-­Chih and Deborah Burton. “Indefensible: The True Cost of the Global Military to Our Climate and Human Security.” Tipping Point North South, October 2020, 10,

Platzer, Michaela D, and Heidi M Peters. "U.S. Aluminum Manufacturing: National Security and Tariffs." Congressional Report Service, 14 Apr. 2023,

Sheller, Mimi. "The Uneasy Alliance Between Aluminum and Warfare." U.S. Government Accountability Office, August 19, 2019,