Open letter to U.N. Secretary-General H. E. Mr. António Guterres.

 In copy to: Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed; Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu; Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Achim Steiner; and President of ECOSOC, Her Excellency Lachezara Stoeva

His Excellency Mr. Antonio Guterres

Secretary-General United Nations

Headquarters New York City

5th August 2022

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,


The February 24th Russian invasion tragically eclipsed the desperate warnings of the IPCC report of March 2022. The IPCC’s findings would now have to “compete for media space with war”.  So while the UN struggles to raise sufficient funds to address climate finance, SDGs and Loss and Damage, we are now reverting to 20th century framing of international relations.  Humanity deserves better than this.

This letter offers up some practical proposals on the matter of disarmament for development by addressing governments’ excessive military spending, coupled with defence sector excess profits, as legitimate routes to plugging SDGs and climate finance shortfalls.  

It also offers up a related idea for a UN High Level Open Debate on the concept of Carbon Neutral Peace and Defence.


August marks the sixth month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The killing and destruction continues and as our planet burns climate change is indeed competing with war, war preparedness and militarism.

It is estimated to cost $750 billion to rebuild Ukraine; NATO is expanding its ready-to-deploy troops from 40,000 to over 300,000; many NATO countries have now pledged to increase their military spending to more than 2 percent of GDP so by 2024, almost all 28 NATO members will have this level of spending compared to only three countries (Greece, UK and USA) in 2014; specifically, the UK has pledged to increase military spending to 2.5 percent of GDP; the USA has approved a record high defence budget of over $800 billion; Germany has set aside an additional €100 billion to boost the strength of the armed forces; Russia has re-presented the spectre of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons use; nuclear arsenals are being upgraded; fossils fuels are now being touted as either ‘green’ or necessary to counter Russian oil exports; on top of the impact of rich-country driven climate change, countries across Africa and Asia are suffering the food-shortage consequence of a European war and UNDP has warned the global cost-of-living crisis is pushing an additional 71 million people in the world’s poorest countries into extreme poverty.

Meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic has not – contrary to wishful thinking – gone away.  And as the entire planet knows, we are at Code Red for Humanity.


“The disarmament agenda underscores a vast potential to operationally link implementation of disarmament objectives with many SDGs…. The economic costs of insecurity are enormous… More than $1.7 trillion was spent on militaries and their equipment. This is vastly disproportionate with contemporary sources of national and human insecurity, which include climate change….pandemics… involuntary migration. Not only is much of this spending economically unproductive, but excessive military spending by one nation also multiplies throughout the international system, prompting excessive spending elsewhere”

United Nations Report – Securing our Common Future 2018 [Note that $1.7tr is now $2.1tr]

We can start to meet some of this ‘vast potential by considering mechanisms to reduce and redirect runaway military spending. Whether acting as a dampener on arms races (SIPRI: we are currently in one), waste (of which there are ample cases) or corruption (again ample cases), there is a strong case to be made for budget reductions and redirections to greater human need.

Secretary General, we ask you to do everything possible to raise awareness -and action- on the following:

(i) PRIVATE SECTOR: UN Expert Committee to investigate a Global Excess Profits Tax on the Defence Industry with the annual levy going to climate finance.

Arms manufacturers and their shareholders derive financial benefit from conflicts and war by making and selling carbon-intensive military equipment and weaponry for governments. In recent times, excess profits have been accruing to the defence industry as a result of prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. We are now in the midst of a European war in Ukraine.

Excess profits which accrue as a result of ‘crisis’ (war) and which inevitably result in death and destruction, cannot be right. Moreover, people and planet are hit twice over as conflicts increase greenhouse gas emissions which in turn exacerbates the climate crisis. And as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown, war has served to place fossil fuels centre stage for all the wrong reasons.

According to SIPRI, arms sales have grown significantly every year over recent years. The top 100 arms companies accounted for $531 billion in arms sales in 2020 (the latest available). The top 20 arms companies alone account for two thirds of the total arms sales in the world and come from just a handful of countries:  USA, China, Russia, UK, France and Italy.

We urgently need to impose a strong disincentive to prevent excess profits accruing from war and conflict. Such an excess profits tax could be applied to climate finance.

(ii) GOVERNMENTS: Concrete mechanisms (2% and 5% details below) that can equitably and practically reduce governments’ excessive military spending as an additional financing stream to meet SDGs and other development funding gaps.

We especially need to address the top 20 military spenders, most of which are also G20 countries, accounting collectively for 85% of global military spending. This includes the permanent five members of the Security Council – the USA ($801bn), China ($293bn), UK ($68bn), Russia ($66bn) and France ($57bn) (SIPRI 2022) – coincidentally the world’s very top military spenders. Current global military spending has exceeded an insane $2 trillion annually. At this rate, how much greater will it be in 2030 as it collides with the IPCC deadline to half emissions?

(iii) UNITED NATIONS – UN High‐Level Open Debate on carbon neutral peace and defence that takes the proposals above as a starting point. Just as people and planet are in urgent need of social and economic transformation, it is patently clear that we must demand transformation in how we can more sanely and safely conduct our international relations in the 21st century. Such a debate would be recognition of this.


The annual $100bn climate finance promise for developing countries still remains only partially met. At COP26, the Climate Pact addressing loss and damage failed to secure the establishment of a dedicated new damages fund for vulnerable nations after resistance from the United States, the European Union and some other rich nations. Added to this, the SDGs face a major shortfall in funding of $2-4 trillion to the 2030 cycle.

Just as the fossil fuel industry must be taxed punitively for Loss and Damage, so those companies which profit from war and those nations which spend the most on their militaries and therefore emit the most greenhouse gases (GHGs) have a moral and practical duty to accept the consequences of their actions. These monies, in some small part, acknowledge the damage incurred by both conflict as well as military emissions.


The global military depends on fossil-fuel reliant hardware. High military spending literally fuels the global military’s significant GHG emissions (day to day operations, overseas bases, war, conflict, destruction and rebuilding) and despite its ‘greening’ rhetoric, in truth it has no practical or realistic plan for zero carbon. This topic is now on the climate agenda. At COP26 in Glasgow, global military emissions  and the impact of the fossil fuel dependent global military on climate change secured public and media attention. And in March this year, you highlighted the climate impact of the Russia/Ukraine conflict. 

Global military emissions are estimated to be up to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The reason we do not have exact figures is because military emissions reporting to UN processes remains severely inadequate and voluntary. Civil society is pushing hard to address this and a new reportMilitary and conflict-related emissions: Kyoto to Glasgow and Beyond’ by Perspectives Climate Group (Germany) and released at the time of the G7 meeting in Germany, details why and how we must address the urgent need for full and  comprehensive military emissions reporting to the UNFCCC.


Ukraine has led to desperate food price hikes across the African continent as 23 African countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than half the imports of one of their staple goods;  after decades of war 20 million Afghans now face starvation and  17.4 million Yemenis, who have faced six years of conflict − now in need of food assistance. As always, in war and the aftermath, it is the children and women on whom these obscenities fall the hardest. We must re-double all possible efforts to push this issue further than ever before.

“In the current circumstances, military expenses seem even more extravagant. Back in the spring, I urged for an agreement to cut them by 10% to 15%. Environmental issues are now more urgent than ever…The UN needs to be safeguarded, developed, and of course, reformed, adapting it to the changes that have taken place globally.”   Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking in 2018:

Yours sincerely,

Deborah Burton

Martin Drewry

Dionne Gravesande

Kevin McCullough

Dr. Ho-Chih Lin

Tipping Point North South


The Global Peace Dividend: 2% Annual Cut x 5 years implemented by treaty

This initiative is a proposal for international negotiations to reduce military expenditure by 2% per year in all countries for 5 years and use the funds liberated in the fight against planetary emergencies The proposal is signed by more than fifty Nobel Prize laureates, the presidents of several of the most important Academies of Sciences, a number of leading intellectuals, politicians, NGOs and artists. Half the resources freed up are allocated to a global fund, under UN supervision, to address pandemics, climate change, and extreme poverty. The other half remains at the disposal of individual governments.

This treaty could be the gateway to a deeper transformational shift.

The 5%  Formula − a two-part mechanism to achieve major, year-on-year cuts to global military spending over 10 years and beyond. The first decade calls on the top 20 military spenders (accounting for 85% of $2 trillion global spending) to cut their military spending absolutely by 5% each year for a decade delivering a compound cut of 40% to global military spending over the decade, back to mid-1990s spending levels ie around $1 trillion dollars. The sum saved over this first decade of absolute cuts would deliver an estimated $800 billion to be redirected to core urgent human and environmental needs. After the first 10 years, we call upon all nations to adopt the 5% threshold rule to sustainably restrain the global military spending – no country allows any increase in military spending to outstrip economic growth. Most economies grow less than 3% annually; this effectively translates as 2% annual reduction to their military spending.

UN high‐level open debate on carbon neutral peace and defence

Given the Security Council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security coupled with the UN’s lead on the urgent global need to decarbonise every aspect of human activity, it seems timely to be asking for a High-Level Open Debate that would address:

  • the impact of the global military on climate change and inadequate GHG emission reporting in National Inventories and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
  • the attendant vicious circle that the role of the military on climate change imposes on the world’s poorest: the impact of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction on climate change added to the impact of conflict and violence on people and environment
  • the impact of runaway military spending on all economies – developed world and developing world; and the undermining of many of the SDGs
  • discussion of new thinking/framework to enhance ― and better still finance ― global collective human safety and security. Ideas such as Carbon Neutral Peace and Defence (outlined above) and the proposals to re-apportion defence spending such that climate mitigation & adaption; peacekeeping and conflict prevention; and pandemic preparedness are included as major items inside national ‘defence’ spending