Story of Change

What’s the military got to do with climate justice? In 2019, WILPF Sweden unraveled this question and more in their journey toward a green feminist peace. Uniting together in our concerns for the planet, for peace and for justice is crucial to creating a world we can all live in, free from harm.

States, businesses and politicians are slowly admitting to the truths that Indigenous communities have been advocating for centuries: protection of soil, air and water is absolutely crucial for our collective survival.

But despite the progress that has been made in advancing global awareness and action for the environment, there is still a link that is often missed – that of the impact of militarism on environmental degradation. Military activities are some of the planet’s biggest polluters, but their environmental impact is also the industry’s best kept secret.

In 2019, WILPF Sweden made great strides in bringing these secrets to the forefront of environmental discussions.

Making the link between peace and the environment

WILPF Sweden’s branches in Gothenburg, Växjö, Motala and Jönköping have been focused on organising around a range of local climate issues. At their Congress in April 2019, the Section adopted a formal statement on militarism, climate and the environment, establishing climate concerns as being at the core of their work. The statement requires that WILPF Sweden stand by and advocate for the protection of the environment and people living in it over commercial or military interests.

Summer panorama view at the Vättern lake in Sweden.

One particular area of concern for WILPF Sweden and other environmental groups in the country has been the contamination of Vättern, the second largest lake in Sweden and the water source for nearly a quarter of a million people, as a result of military exercises by the Swedish Armed Forces. Despite the risks to local residents created by the military’s polluting activities, in the beginning of 2019 Sweden’s Land and Environment Court gave the Armed Forces the right to fire 69,000 shots and 150 practice rockets in and around Vättern each year.

To strengthen their advocacy efforts around the situation at Vättern and other environmental concerns, last year WILPF Sweden established a working group in charge of collecting and compiling information about conflict, environment and the climate. Driven by a belief that the lack of action on climate justice is caused by ignorance and not by apathy, the group is focused on strategising ways to develop and disseminate information about environmental issues and pursue awareness and advocacy at the political level.

Data in pursuit of justice

Without meaningful data and information to back up concerns and conversations around the environment, it can be difficult to rally political interest or drive true change.

To address this gap, in 2019 Titti Wahlberg and Ingela Mårtensson of WILPF Sweden’s Gothenburg branch accessed support through WILPF’s Environment Grant to begin building a body of data around the relationship between the military and the environment.

Titti and Ingela developed a questionnaire about the military’s level of consideration for environmental concerns, which they submitted to 36 different organisations, authorities and political parties in the Parliament and the Swedish Armed Forces.

Together with Swedish Women for Peace, the Gothenburg branch then compiled the findings from the questionnaire and published a report entitled The military and the climate documenting and analysing the data.

"Militarism and climate" cover

The report raised a number of critical questions, such as why the military is not required to publicly state their carbon emissions while other Swedish authorities are. The report has been the star of seminars and conferences across the Nordic region, shedding light on the military’s carbon footprint and advancing action toward change.

Putting the human back into security

A feminist understanding of security is guided by diplomacy, cooperation and common solutions to global problems.

In this spirit, WILPF Sweden has started working in partnership with key environmental organisations in Gothenburg to advance shared efforts to address climate change. Together, these organisations have declared a climate emergency and are delivering a powerful message: it is time for us to put humans – not weapons and imagined threats – back at the heart of security and change our course for the future.

WILPF Sweden is also planning major changes in the way the Section functions. Everything from the food served at their events and the banks they use, to educating themselves about links between climate crises, military and gender power structures will be carefully considered to build a climate-friendly organisation from the ground up.

Uniting together in our concerns for the planet, for peace and for justice is crucial to creating a world we can all live in, free from harm. Instead of building arms to fight for a presumed national defence, it is time to link our arms together in the struggle to defend our climate.