What does Russia’s war for global climate goals mean?

A group of Ukrainian women is protesting near the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, calling for more action against Russia.

Thierry Monase | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON – Reflecting on the fuel market more than a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a top Saudi official said: “Look at what’s happening today, who’s talking about climate change now?”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman’s remarks to participants at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November last year were effectively a re-enactment of his speech when he claimed that the world could reduce greenhouse gas emissions without turning off hydrocarbons.

Summarizing his views on energy security and the climate crisis, Abdul Aziz told CNBC that the world’s top oil exporter would not back down from fossil fuel production. “We are in favor of oil and gas production and the use of coal in Hallelujah.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, now entering its fourth month, has raised concerns about what the conflict means for food, energy and global climate goals.

The G-7 warns that Russia’s aggression “poses one of the deadliest food and energy crises in recent history”, threatening the most vulnerable people worldwide.

From my point of view, since I am still in Ukraine and I can see everything from the beginning here, I would say that our first security is the security of life.

Svitlana Krakowska

Climate scientist

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine is likely to have a major impact on global warming targets, especially as many countries turn to importing coal or liquefied natural gas as an alternative source of Russian energy.

Guterres described this short-sighted pursuit of fossil fuels as “madness” before warning that humanity’s “addiction to fossil fuels is a mutually certain destruction.”

In the six months since the end of COP26, where negotiators have left the UK with a sense of increasing progress, the global power picture has changed dramatically.

In short, Russia’s aggression has turned a planned power transfer into a turning point. The emergence faced by policy makers is that moving away from fossil fuels is important to avoid a catastrophic climate situation.

The UN chief has said that instead of “braking” countries in the wake of Russia’s aggression, the time has come to “paddle metal into the future of renewable energy.”

Energy security vs. energy transfer

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed security issues to the top of the political agenda. Indeed, one of the most pressing challenges facing European leaders is how to break their dependence on Russian power while accelerating the fight against the climate crisis.

Complicating the challenge, however, is the fact that many European countries are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly called on the EU to stop financing Russia’s attack by imposing immediate import sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

Attila Kisbendek | AFP | Getty Images

Speaking to CNBC from Kyiv, Svitlana Krakowska, Ukraine’s top climate scientist, made it clear that survival – not energy security – was a top priority for people living in the country.

“From my point of view, since I’m still here in Ukraine and I can see everything from the beginning here, I would say that our first security is the security of life,” Krakowska said. He had previously told CNBC that both the primary driver of the climate emergency and the root cause of Russia’s war stemmed from humanity’s fossil fuel dependence.

“The more we continue to rely on this fossil fuel, the more we will suspend it. [climate] Action, we are less secure, “Krakovska said.

Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas The main drivers of the climate crisis and researchers have repeatedly stressed that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without immediate and deep emission reduction in all sectors would soon be out of reach.

This temperature range is recognized as an important global target because so-called tipping points are more likely to occur outside of this level. The tipping point is the threshold where small changes can dramatically change the entire life support system on Earth.

We can respond so quickly in terms of supply and demand – and we are not hearing enough about that.

Michael Lazarus

Director of the U.S. Office for the Stockholm Environment Institute

Governments of the world agreed in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, and continued efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For the latter, the International Atomic Energy Agency has warned that no new oil and gas projects are possible.

Krakowska, head of the Applied Climate Science Laboratory at Ukraine’s Hydrometeorological Institute, said that while it was difficult to assess the climatic effects of the Russian aggression, there were already clear examples of environmental degradation.

Krakowska, for example, said he had observed with great concern the vast expanses of unexpected fires in Siberia, noting that Russian military units that would normally be fighting the fire had moved to the Ukrainian frontline.

Fires in Russia’s Siberia are out of control. This aerial photo was taken on July 27, 2021, showing smoke rising from a forest fire.

Dimita Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

Siberian wildfires were found to have more than doubled in size last month compared to the same period in 2021, environmental group Greenpeace told CNBC, citing satellite data. Climate erosion is becoming an annual phenomenon, burning trees in Siberia unlocks extreme carbon pollution during the melting of methane-rich permafrost.

“This war actually has many devastating consequences and it exacerbates the climate crisis,” Krakowska said. He reiterated the Ukrainian government’s call for the EU to immediately suspend financing of the Russian invasion by imposing immediate import sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

Why aren’t we talking about demand?

To some, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis should be seen as a catalyst for how countries think about their oil use.

“We can respond so quickly to supply and demand – and we’re not hearing enough about that,” Michael Lazarus, director of the US office at the Stockholm Environment Institute, a nonprofit research firm, told CNBC via video call.

In late March, the IEA unveiled a 10-point plan to reduce oil demand, recommending policies to reduce speed limits on highways by at least 10 kilometers per hour, working three days a week from home and car-free if possible. Sunday for cities.

The energy agency said such a measure would help reduce the price pain felt by global consumers, reduce economic losses, shrink Russia’s hydrocarbon revenue and move oil demand toward a more sustainable path.

“While some efforts are behaviorally or culturally challenging, whether it’s changing the speed limit or changing our room temperature, these things can happen and what we’ve seen is the speed of public support,” Lazarus said.

“People want to do something. People want to contribute, and it reduces the cost and vulnerability for families to invest in energy efficiency and conservation, and it helps to free up resources for the rest of the world to deal with this moment,” Lazarus said. “It’s really the moment for a dramatic effort towards demand.”

What about the cost?

In early April, the world’s top climate scientists warned that the fight to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius had reached the “now or never” zone.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reaffirmed that emissions from global warming must be halved by the end of the decade to keep global temperatures within this range.

“We have a contradiction here,” Jos Manuel Barroso, chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former president of the European Commission, said at a May 10 event: “Ukraine and Europe clash over clean energy transition.”

“While in the medium and long term everyone agrees that the less dependent on fossil fuels the better. The key is how expensive it will be – and so I think there is a risk of repercussions. Having an agenda, “Barroso said.

The IPCC is unequivocal about the so-called “cost” of the global fight to secure a livable future: it is not nearly as expensive as we think.

“By 2050, global gross domestic product (GDP) will be only a few percentage points lower, if we take the necessary steps to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Celsius), regardless of the economic benefits of reducing adaptation costs or avoiding climate change.” ) Or below, compared to maintaining current policies, “said Priyadarshi Shukla, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III, April 4.

– CNBC’s Lucy Handley contributes to this report.

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