Are fighter jets and warships for the Arctic an implicit admission a 2°C global temperature increase will happen?
Is Canada’s apparent commitment to the militarization of the Arctic an acknowledgement that the Paris Agreement will not be fulfilled and that climate breakdown will irrevocably alter this precious ecosystem?
The goal of Paris Agreement reached in December 2015 is to limit global warming to well below 2° Celsius, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Studies are already telling us what will happen if those limits are exceeded.
Climate change and Arctic ice cover
National Geographic has noted: “Arctic sea ice expands as the sea surface freezes during the winter. At its maximum in March, the ice covers nearly the entire Arctic Ocean. It melts back during summer, reaching its lowest point in September.”
Now, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program says that if the Earth warms to 2° Celsius the chance of Arctic sea ice disappearing entirely during summer months is 10 times greater than at 1.5° Celsius.
Furthermore, a University of Cincinnati study has found: “Most likely, September Arctic sea ice will effectively disappear between approximately 2 and 2.5 degrees of global warming.”
And the Arctic Institute has commented: “A 3 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures could melt 30 to 85 percent of the top permafrost layers that exist across the Arctic region, destroying infrastructure and irreversibly changing the unique terrain and ecosystems at the top of the world.”
Where are we now?
Six years after the Paris Agreement, the global mean temperature for 2021 (based on data from January to September of that year) was about 1.09°C and rising.
While that agreement affirms the goal of the limiting global temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the United Nations has warned that the world could surpass that limit in the next two decades and that current commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions put the planet on track for 2.7° Celsius.
Given the failure of governments to meet their emission reduction commitments, the global temperature increase could be even worse. That creates the conditions for the worst scenarios to unfold in the Arctic.
Transnational corporations getting ready
While we see climate change as a disaster to avert, transnational corporations may see it as an opportunity to reach the estimated 90 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic.
The Guardian recently highlighted that Exxon, Texaco, Chevron and Shell have been preparing for a melting Arctic for years. That article notes: “In 1973, Exxon secured a patent for an oil tanker that could easily navigate a melting Arctic. In 1974, Texaco was granted a patent for a mobile drilling platform in a melting Arctic. Chevron got a patent for its version of a melting-Arctic-ready drilling platform that same year. Shell was a bit behind; it got its melting-Arctic drilling platform design patented in 1983.”
Extractivism leads to militarism
If transnationals are planning for this, what about governments?
It would appear so.
Last year, Canadian defence department deputy minister Jody Thomas stated: “We should not underestimate at all that threat of resource exploitation [including fish, petroleum and critical minerals] in the Arctic by China in particular.”
With surprising frankness, Thomas added: “We have to understand it and exploit it and more quickly than they can exploit it.”
Now commentary in mainstream media is stressing the importance of increased military spending in the context of a melting Arctic.
Yesterday, iPolitics published an article titled: Experts say Canada must defend itself from the Arctic ambitions of China and Russia.
It notes: “As global warming melts glaciers in Canada’s Arctic and sea levels continue to rise, countries like Russia and China are eyeing the shipping routes that have opened up as a result, and threatening our national security in the process, experts say.”
That article highlights the importance of Canada buying new fighter jets.
And the week before, Professor Robert Huebert’s opinion piece in The Globe and Mail highlighted the construction new ships for the Canadian Navy in the Arctic.
Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy will see fifteen new Canadian Surface Combatants ships (at a cost of $77.3 billion) and six Arctic and Offshore Patrol ships (at a cost of $4.1 billion), plus two more ships for the Coast Guard (at about $400 million each).
In the context of Arctic defence, Huebert also argues for the purchase of F-35 fighter jets (at a cost of about $76.8 billion) and NORAD modernization (with Canada paying 40 per cent of estimates ranging between $11 billion and $15 billion).
Warplanes and border walls
Last year, the Transnational Institute reported that Canada spent an average of $1.9 billion a year (over the years 2013-18) on the militarization of its borders while only contributing $149 million a year over the same period on climate financing to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Their study concludes: “The world’s wealthiest countries have chosen how they approach global climate action – by militarising their borders.”
With Canada committed to spending half-a-trillion dollars on the military (total spending over a 20-year period of $553 billion on a cash basis), fighter jets and warships should be understood in the same context as border walls.