COP27: Will Ukraine War Destroy Progress on Tackling Climate Emergency?

Ahead of the COP27 climate talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh next week, there are concerns that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reversed progress on tackling global warming, diverting the world’s attention from the climate emergency.

However, there is also some optimism that the energy crisis is turning some countries away from fossil fuels.

Global tensions

U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron are among world leaders due to attend the two-week summit, which begins Sunday. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also confirmed his attendance.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stoked global geopolitical tensions—and the destruction limited to the battlefield. Recent progress in tackling climate change, forged at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, has taken a hit, according to Antony Froggatt of the London-based analyst group Chatham House.

“What we saw in Glasgow is a coming together in a very positive way of countries wanting to take action on climate change, the development of coalitions — joint, large coalitions, but also bilateral initiatives such as U.S. and China proposing a new program of work to address climate change. And some of that goodwill has disappeared,” Froggatt told VOA.

“It’s not just in terms of Russia. We see that China has pulled out of that arrangement with the U.S. as a result of [tensions over] Taiwan,” he added. “So, across a number of areas, the geopolitics isn’t so positive.”

Green transition

Speaking to VOA, the executive director of United Nations Environment Program Inger Andersen said the world cannot afford to let the Ukraine conflict distract from the climate emergency.

“We can’t deal with only one crisis and drop everything else. We need to be able to deal with multiple crises. And the truth is, with the war on Ukraine, and with the complexity around oil and gas supplies, there’s an opportunity — and I say that with respect — there is a chance now to really invest in clean and green rather than to invest in hydrocarbon infrastructure,” Andersen said.

Energy outlook

In its annual World Energy Outlook published last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said last week the war in Ukraine will hasten the green energy transition.

“The numbers here … do confirm that the government responses around the world given to this energy crisis, promise to be that we are seeing a turning point in the history of energy, and this crisis indeed accelerates clean energy transitions,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol in an October 27 press conference in Paris.

The IEA added that Europe’s transition away from Russian oil and gas will have a big impact on Moscow’s revenues.

“My colleagues have calculated that the result of the decline in the oil and gas sales between now and 2030, Russia will lose about one trillion U.S. dollars of export revenues,” Birol said.

Coal returns

However, the green energy transition also appears to have taken a backward step. Many European nations, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, are restarting coal-fired power stations in breach of climate pledges, as Russia turns off the gas taps.

“There is a short-term supply gap that will have to be met,” said Froggatt of Chatham House. “But as long as there isn’t huge investment in those fossil fuels, then maybe we just have to accept that. It is sort of the medium-to-longer-term trajectory that I hope we see an acceleration of decarbonization as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“Energy efficiency and energy saving becomes much more economically attractive, which I think is a very positive thing,” he said.

Russia’s invasion has also stoked a global economic crisis, with soaring inflation and looming recessions.

“The attention that global leaders are placing on climate change has diminished,” Froggatt added. “I think there will be increased awareness of the economic predicament that many countries find themselves in the looming global recession that will make financing more difficult.”

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