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Gaza conflict's environmental toll: A surge in carbon emissions

Nov 18,2023 - Last updated at Nov 18,2023

In a detailed analysis reminiscent of the complexities of modern warfare, it has been determined that Israel's extensive military operations in Gaza are not only a source of profound humanitarian concern, but also a significant environmental issue.

According to the evaluation conducted by the authors, it has been estimated that in the first 35 days of heightened conflict, emissions amounting to approximately 60.304 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents were discharged. The figure encompasses a range of sources, including fuel consumption, munitions, Trinitrotoluene (TNT), the demolition of buildings and the reconstruction of civilian infrastructure. Most of these emissions are attributed to the destruction and subsequent rebuilding of infrastructure, a stark reminder of the often-overlooked environmental consequences of warfare. Further, projections suggest that should the conflict continue for a year, as hinted at by Israeli forces, the total emissions could escalate to an alarming 629 million tonnes CO2e. The findings of this analysis underscore the paramount importance of integrating environmental considerations into the processes for resolving conflicts and the strategies employed for post-conflict reconstruction.

 

Fuel consumption

 

Deep insights into the environmental impact of contemporary warfare reveal a notable concern: the substantial greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the extensive use of fuel in conflict zones significantly contributes to climate change. However, accurately quantifying the fossil fuel consumption in these areas poses a significant challenge, primarily due to the limited availability of data and the uncertainties associated with the scope of these environmental impacts. A detailed analysis of such consumption would necessitate a wealth of data and assumptions, including the quantity of vehicles used in military and logistical operations, their operational characteristics, the distances they travel and the structure of supply chains. Acquiring this kind of military-related information is rarely feasible in peacetime and virtually impossible during conflict. Alternatively, a broader approach might involve making educated guesses about the military forces' fuel usage. Despite the limitations and uncertainties of available data, this method could offer a rough estimate of fuel consumption levels. The Israeli occupation forces were supplied with 300 kilotonnes of these fuels in September. In October, this figure significantly increased three times, indicating a notable escalation in fuel supply to these areas. This increase is similar to the increase that happened during the Russian-Ukrainian war. 

In the national reports on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions submitted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), emissions related to military activities are categorised under 1.A.5 OTHER (Not elsewhere specified) in the standard reporting framework. This category encompasses emissions from all unspecified fuel combustion sources, which includes emissions stemming from the use of military fuels (1.A.5.a for stationary combustion and 1.A.5.b for mobile combustion). Although this category might cover other sources of emissions as well, it represents the most dependable data source for evaluating the extent of military-related emissions in Gaza prior to the Israeli’s invasion. According to the most recent data available for UNFCCC, 448.03 kilotonnes CO2 is generated by 140 kilotonnes of fuel. Thus, total fuel consumption by Israel’s war on Gaza is estimated at 1.92 million tonnes CO2e, so far.

 

Munitions

 

During the war, artillery weapons were extensively used. These weapons can fir1e a projectile weighing around 40 kg to distances ranging from 17 to 40 kilometres. The GHG emissions are generated from the production of raw materials for munitions, their transportation to battlefields, the combustion of the propellant when fired, and the explosion of the warhead upon impact. As these munitions are likely refurbished to replenish stocks during the war, the emissions from their production are significant for assessing the war's climate impacts.

The daily artillery usage varies greatly, estimated between 5,000 to 60,000 rounds, and fluctuates with the intensity of frontline shelling. It is assumed that Israel uses 50,000 rounds daily (or 1.85 million over 35 days). These conservative estimates factor in limited information and high uncertainty. Additionally, significant munitions are destroyed in strikes on depots, further impacting emissions. The average CO2e emissions for each artillery round used in this context is approximately 1.4 tonnes resulting in approximately 2.59 million tonnes CO2e.

 

Emissions from TNT usage

 

The emissions resulting from Israel's use of TNT during the conflict can be quantified based on the amount of TNT used and the CO2 emissions it produces. Israel utilised a total of 30,000 tonnes of TNT, equivalent to 30,000,000 kilogrammes. The combustion of TNT generates a significant amount of carbon dioxide, with each kilogram of TNT producing approximately 1.467 kilograms of CO2. The total emissions from TNT usage are so far 0.044 million tonnes CO2e.

 

Emissions from building demolitions

 

The CO2 emissions resulting from the1demolition of buildings during the conflict are a significant contributor to the overall environmental impact, particularly within the context of the construction industry's role in global CO2 emissions. The construction industry plays a significant role in global CO2 emissions, accounting for approximately 11 per cent of the total. This percentage includes emissions from a range of activities such as the production of energy-intensive materials like concrete and steel, the transportation of these materials, the operation of construction machinery, and notably, the demolition of buildings. When a building is demolished, it not only generates a considerable amount of waste but also leads to substantial CO2 emissions. For example, demolishing a 100-square-metre office building typically results in about 1,000 metric tonnes of waste and approximately 110,000 kg of CO2 emissions.

In the scenario of the conflict, where an estimated 50,000 buildings have been destroyed, each with an average size of 500 square meters, the environmental impact is markedly high. The larger size of these buildings implies a proportional increase in both waste and CO2 emissions as compared to smaller structures.

Assuming each 500-square-meter building generates around five times the waste and CO2 emissions of a 100-square-meter building, the cumulative effect on CO2 emissions from the demolition of these buildings is substantial, reflecting the significant environmental cost of such widespread destruction in conflict zones. This also highlights the importance of sustainable construction practices, such as the development of green buildings, which have a much lower CO2 emission footprint compared to traditional construction methods. The total emissions from Building Demolitions are so far 27.5 million tonnes CO2e.

 

Reconstruction of civilian infrastructure

 

The reconstruction of civilian infrastructure, a crucial aspect in the aftermath of conflict, carries with it significant CO2e emissions. On average, the reconstruction of each destroyed unit is estimated to generate approximately 565 tonnes of CO2e. Given the extensive damage incurred, with around 50,000 units needing reconstruction, this equates to a substantial total of 28.25 million tonnes of CO2e. This estimate is aligned with the emissions observed in similar reconstruction efforts, such as those following the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

In summary, the total CO2 emissions resulting from various activities during the first 35-day conflict are considerable and are estimated to be approximately 60.304 million tonnes CO2e. If the conflict were to extend for a year, as suggested by the Israeli occupation forces, the total emissions could potentially escalate to around 629 million tonnes CO2e, which is equivalent to the production of CO2e emissions of an industrial country like Germany in 2020. This total notably includes the significant emissions from the destruction and subsequent demolition of buildings, the most substantial contributor in this assessment. Such figures highlight the profound environmental impact of the conflict, underscoring the need for considering environmental factors in conflict resolution and post-conflict recovery.

 

Mohammad Firas Tamimi, Ali Shehadeh, and Mwaffaq Otoom are professors at Hijjawi Faculty for Engineering Technology, Yarmouk University

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