New study reveals high environmental cost in the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict

Built up commercial area with buildings on fire and with smoke protruding

The Israel-Gaza conflict has seen a tragic human cost and now a new study has revealed the significant environmental impact of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

Co-authored by Fred Otu-Larbi, Post-Doctoral Researcher in Lancaster Environment Centre, the study provides a comprehensive estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the conflict and calls for mandatory military emissions reporting.

The study, titled "A Multitemporal Snapshot of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Israel-Gaza Conflict," estimates that the emissions from the first 120 days of the conflict alone were greater than the annual emissions of 26 individual countries and territories. When factoring in war infrastructure built by both Israel and Hamas, the total emissions increase to more than those of 36 countries and territories.

There will also be considerable environmental impact in the emissions from reconstruction. The emissions associated with rebuilding Gaza are projected to be higher than the annual emissions of over 135 countries, equating them to those of Sweden and Portugal. The upper estimate of emissions from pre-war, wartime, and post-war activities is comparable to the burning of 31,000 kilotonnes of coal, enough to power about 15.8 coal-fired power plants for a year.

The research estimates the carbon emissions of the Israel-Gaza conflict across three distinct periods: the preparatory construction activities before the conflict, the emissions from the first 120 days of active warfare (October 2023 – February 2024), and the projected emissions from future reconstruction efforts in Gaza. The total emissions from direct war activities in the first 120 days are estimated to be between 420,265 and 652,552 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). This figure rises dramatically when considering pre-war and post-war construction activities, reaching between 47,669,097 and 61,443,739 tCO2e.

The study comes in the wake of devastating human and financial losses. Since the onset of the conflict on October 7, 2023, over 35,000 Palestinians and 1,139 Israelis have died, and more than 100 Israelis and foreign nationals are still held hostage by Hamas. Approximately 54-66% of Gaza's buildings, including homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals, have been destroyed or damaged. The financial cost to Israel is estimated to reach up to $50 billion, including the reconstruction of Gaza, with the World Bank estimating $18.5 billion in damages to physical structures alone.

While the humanitarian crises dominate global attention, the environmental impact of the conflict is significant and warrants attention. According to a previous study, military operations are responsible for about 5.5% of global carbon emissions, yet these emissions are often underreported and understudied. The research team advocates for better methodologies to track and report these emissions, emphasizing the importance of including wartime emissions in climate calculations. The study underscores the urgent need for mandatory military emissions reporting through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to better understand and mitigate the climate impact of conflicts.

Co-Author Fred Otu-Larbi said: “While, rightly so, the world’s attention is focused on the thousands of lives lost, and the millions of displaced people in Gaza, this does not take away from the fact that carbon emissions from the war is higher than the total annual emissions of several nations. The situation will only worsen with comparable loss of lives and devastation to vulnerable populations around the world in the long term – an additional reason for nations to choose the path of peace over warfare to protect lives, the environment, and prevent the looming impacts of global climate change.”

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