climate change

Opinion: A Russia-Ukraine war would be a setback for action on climate change 

Russian troops heading towards the Ukrainian border. Photo credit: AP.

By Anders Lorenzen

These days the West and Russia seem closer to a war than they have been at any time since the Cold War. 

In recent weeks Russia has been deploying military units along the Russia – Ukraine border causing fears that Russia could be about to invade Ukraine, which has, in turn, caused the West to deploy military units in Ukraine and other allied eastern countries bordering Russia.

Since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea conditions in Ukraine have not exactly been peaceful and stable, and there has to some extent been a civil war ever since between groups loyal to Russia and those more loyal to the West and the EU.

Publicly Russia says they’re not about to invade Ukraine but are concerned about security on their common border with ongoing rumours that Ukraine wants to join NATO, and that Kyiv is more aligned to the EU than to Moscow. But in reality, it also plays into the ideology that Vladimir Putin wants to re-establish the geographical boundaries of the Soviet Union.

One of the world’s biggest energy players

But regardless of the reason, the risk of a Russia – Ukraine war and the death and destruction involved could also be disastrous for many reasons. Russia is one of the biggest energy suppliers in the world with their vast oil and gas reserves. The Putin government has hardly yet been seen to deal seriously with the climate crisis, despite the country experiencing serious climate impacts. To deal with climate change would of course mean that Russia would have to scale back on hydrocarbons and heavily invest in low-carbon technologies, which seems at the moment most unlikely.

Kyiv is much more open to dealing with the climate crisis, due in large part to their closer ties to the EU. But the country, which is incredibly poor after nearly eight years of a Russian backed civil-war, does not have the finance to significantly invest in a low-carbon economy. In addition, Russia is flexing its muscle and doing its best to make it even harder.  A lot of the gas and oil Europe consumes flows through Ukraine and the country is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas to keep its economy open.

Conflicts are bad news for climate action

War and conflicts are bad news for action on climate change. The places around the world which are conflict zones are also the places where climate action is literally non-existent, as you can’t create a zero-carbon economy in combat zones. That is why security is critical to the process of establishing policies to tackle the climate crisis.

Therefore, every effort should be taken to avoid war between Russia and Ukraine, and all the other countries it might draw in. If Europe and the US were involved, even indirectly, it would mean concentrating all political activity towards supporting Ukraine rather than tackling the climate crisis. Those countries should use all diplomatic forces in first avoiding war, and then working towards how to support Ukraine in moving towards a net-zero economy that would involve aid programmes.

While geopolitics and energy in Russia are complicated there must be coordinated efforts made as to how Europe and the US can collaborate with Russia in tackling the climate crisis.

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