How to get to net zero
Over the long term, decarbonisation to net zero is a complex organisational challenge. To achieve it, the MOD must consider five key strategies:
Data and analytics
Decarbonising involves measuring current emissions, reductions over time and how much can be mitigated by sequestration and other methods. Given that, any decarbonisation strategy relies on data, because you can only manage what you can measure.
As Lt Gen Nugee recommends in his report, establishing a single data dashboard for the Forces will make managing decarbonisation much easier. It would, for example, make it easy to compare progress between departments and find areas for improvement.
But the more any organisation decarbonises, the more reliant on data it becomes, because once the low-hanging fruit has gone, it is harder to find more opportunities and decide where to focus efforts to maximise reductions.
The quality of the data matters too. It is vital to have reliable and consistent data on emissions from different parts of the Forces. Improving the quality of data on emissions will also make it easier to make investment decisions. Scenario modelling can be used to explore and evidence the best timing of investment decisions by comparing costs, capability, risks, benefits and uncertainty for a range of possible future events.
Collecting that data will rely on technological solutions such as sensors. These allow organisations to gather and analyse the emissions of everything from brake pads to buildings. Predictive analytics can help decarbonisation by offering updates on key metrics in real time.
Some technology offers carbon reductions and military advantages at the same time. Electric vehicles, for example, are quieter and so harder to detect. Self-sustaining bases powered by renewables will be more resilient and less dependent on risky, expensive supply chains.
The MOD will have to find new and innovative ways to decarbonise. The Forces should empower and encourage their personnel — all ranks, in every location — to support and accelerate reduction efforts, and to suggest improvements. This may require a culture change that establishes a headline mission of ‘defence net zero’, and encourages ongoing proactive suggestions for how to achieve it.
Decarbonisation through procurement
Lt Gen Nugee’s recommendation that Defence “demand clear sustainability requirements from contractors to drive change in behaviours and outcomes” is the right one. “The Forces have a huge supply chain,” says Lungley. “If you're able to say to suppliers, ‘we won't work with you as a supplier unless you have a credible decarbonisation plan of your own,’ it will stimulate innovation down the supply chain.”
But the MOD can do more than that to drive change — it can lay out a long-term plan for future changes to its sustainability requirements. This would do two things: it would signal a long-term intent to decarbonise and give suppliers time to adapt accordingly.
Prepare in advance
Lungley highlights the importance of preparing to decarbonise years in advance, citing the rollout of electric vehicles as a parallel example from a commercial fleet operator. “We knew it would take two or three years before electric vehicles would be commercially attractive,” he says. “But it took two years’ worth of work inside the organisation before we were ready to adopt them.”
His advice? Waiting until the technology is ready is a bad strategy; getting ready so you’re able to adopt it without delay as soon as it becomes attractive is better.
Decarbonising a military is an operation that does not have a long-established body of knowhow. The MOD would benefit both itself and global military decarbonisation efforts by setting up platforms to enable ongoing research and development and increase the knowledge base. This could be done in partnership with other militaries, for example from NATO countries.