Ukraine has used the COP27 climate talks to argue that Russia’s invasion is causing an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, with fossil fuels being a key catalyst for the country’s destruction.
Ukraine sent two dozen officials to the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to explain the links between the war launched by Russia in February, the spiraling cost of energy due to Russia’s status in as a key gas supplier, and planet-heating emissions expelled by the offensive.
Intense shelling and the movement of troops and tanks have polluted the air, water and land, said Svitlana Grynchuk, Ukraine’s deputy environment minister, killing thousands and decimating the country’s economy . A fifth of Ukraine’s protected areas have been destroyed by war, she added, with contamination of previously fertile soil alone costing 11.4 billion euros (£10 billion) in damage.
“It’s not just war, it’s state terrorism and it’s ecocide,” Grynchuk said. “The invasion killed wildlife, generated pollution and caused social instability. The terrorist state continues to send missiles at our power plants. Our environment is threatened because of this terrorist attack.
War causes emissions, as do its consequences. Ukraine estimates that rebuilding its destroyed cities and industry will result in the emission of nearly 50 million tons of carbon dioxide. “Military emissions in peacetime and in wartime are relevant, they are material,” said Axel Michaelowa, a climate economist who has studied pollution in wartime. “The emissions are comparable to those of entire countries.”
The Ukrainian government’s priority remains to rally international support to help expel Russia from its territory. In a video address to Cop27 delegates and world leaders on Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said “there can be no effective climate policy without peace.”
But Ukraine is also touting its enthusiasm for moving quickly to renewables, which it says would shake off the yoke of Russian fossil fuel dominance by which Vladimir Putin has used gas as a pressure point against Ukraine’s European allies. . This position was backed at Cop27 by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who said US and EU leaders were “absolutely confident this would accelerate the transition” to clean energy.
A somber pavilion erected by Ukraine in Sharm el-Sheikh looks more like a slate gray war memorial than the colorful displays put up by other countries for the 30,000 conference delegates.
Samples of different soils that were thrown into the air when Russian bombs hit the ground are framed on a wall. A piece of oak, riddled with bullet holes, is on display, taken from the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, where the Russian offensive led to the breach of a dam that flooded homes, forests and meadows, according to the exhibition.
Svitlana Krakovska, Ukraine’s leading climatologist, said it was now increasingly understood that fossil fuels not only helped fund Putin’s war machine, but that dependence on oil and gas left countries at the mercy of soaring energy and food costs.
“I’m glad, at least, the connection is now clear to a lot of people,” said Krakovska, who was working on a key UN climate report when the war broke out and now has to endure blackouts. for about 12 hours a day. in Kyiv due to a relentless barrage of Russian missile and drone attacks that have targeted civilian infrastructure, including electricity and water supplies.
In October, a missile landed near her home and shattered the windows of neighboring buildings. Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, called the Russian bombardment “genocide” and warned that the city may have to be evacuated if power outages persist.
“My children have to go to school in a basement, it’s no fun spending time there. There is no heating or light, sometimes we don’t have water, which is much worse,” Krakovska said.
“It’s difficult to be in Kyiv in this situation. It’s a lot of pressure and stress. My husband had a bad situation two weeks ago when he was hospitalized with migraines due to accumulated stress. I was afraid for his life. »
Krakovska said it was difficult to leave Kyiv for Egypt – she is there with her daughter, who is now afraid of any plane flying overhead – but she was determined to push through the message that Ukraine is the victim of a fossil fuel war.
“It’s hard to talk about a green transition now that people have no heating and winter is coming,” she said. “We will just try to do our best to survive. But we all have to realize our dependence on fossil fuels, we have to think about energy independence, not just from Russia but from fossil fuels. The most reliable source of energy is the sun and we must use it.
Krakovska said the forests she had studied for climate impacts have been destroyed by bombs, while farmland is now riddled with landmines. This damage is similar, she argues, to the destruction inflicted on developing countries by hurricanes, floods and other climate impacts caused by global warming.
“Of course the type of destruction is different, but fossil fuels caused climate change and caused this war,” she said. “Russia has destroyed our lives and destroyed our environment. First, of course, we have to stop this war, because we are under attack.
“But then I’m quite sure we’ll find a way to make fossil fuels a thing of the past. Fossil fuels will then be real fossils. Left in the ground, in their place.