‘It’s a fossil fuel war’: Ukraine’s top climate scientist speaks out

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate office collaboration.

For Svitlana Krakovska, Ukraine’s top climate scientist, it was the week when eight years of work culminated in a landmark UN report exposing the devastation the climate crisis is causing around the world.

But then the bombs started falling on kyiv. Krakovska, head of a delegation of 11 Ukrainian scientists, struggled to help finalize the sweeping Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, report ahead of its release on February 28, even as the Russian forces were launching their invasion. “I told my colleagues that as long as we have the internet and there are no bombs above our heads, we will continue,” she said.

But his team, scattered across the country, began to break away – one had to rush to an air-raid shelter in Kharkiv, others decided to flee completely, Internet connections went down, a friend close to a delegate was killed in the fighting. International colleagues had to express their sympathy and continue the report.

Krakovska’s four children took shelter with her in their kyiv home when a missile struck a nearby building, emitting a deafening roar. A fire from a separate strike sent up a plume of smoke that blotted the sky. “This blitzkrieg by [Vladimir] Putin is amazing, this is terrorism against the Ukrainian people,” she said.

The invasion and the IPCC report crystallized for Krakovska the human, economic and geopolitical catastrophe of fossil fuels. About half of the world’s population is now extremely vulnerable to disasters resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, according to the IPCC report, while Russia’s military might is underpinned by wealth from the country’s vast oil and gas reserves. country.

“I started thinking about the parallels between climate change and this war and it’s clear that the roots of both of these threats to humanity lie in fossil fuels,” Krakovska said.

“The burning of oil, gas and coal is causing warming and impacts that we have to adapt to. And Russia is selling these resources and using the money to buy weapons. Other countries are dependent on these fossil fuels, they don’t get rid of it. It’s a fossil fuel war. It’s clear that we can’t continue to live like this, it will destroy our civilization.

The IPCC report, described by António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, as an “atlas of human suffering and a damning condemnation of failed climate leadership”, is the most comprehensive catalog to date of the consequences of global warming. Extreme heat and the spread of disease are killing people around the world, an estimated 12 million people are displaced each year by floods and droughts, and the viability of food-producing land is declining.

But it was the conflict in Ukraine that prompted Western governments to hastily attempt to shed a dependence on Russian oil and gas. The EU, which gets around 40% of its gas supply from Russia, is working on a plan to rapidly expand renewables, boost energy efficiency measures and build liquefied natural gas terminals to receive gas. gas from other countries.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, bowed to pressure from US lawmakers to ban imports of Russian oil. The ban, the US president said last week, will deal a “powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.” We will not participate in the financing of Putin’s war. Biden said the United States would work with Europe on a long-term plan to phase out Russian oil and gas.

The halt to imports was called for in an emotional appeal to members of Congress by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, and is backed by a bipartisan majority of lawmakers. “It’s fundamentally insane of us to continue buying stuff and giving money to Putin so we can use it against the Ukrainian people,” said Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator.

Others see the ban as a moment to break away from fossil fuels for good. “This moment is a clarion call for the urgent need to transition to clean home energy so that we are never complicit in a fossil fuel-fueled conflict ever again,” said Ed Markey, a progressive Democratic senator who was one of the drivers of the Green New Deal program. .

But in a stark display of how fossil fuels remain deeply entrenched in decision-making, the Biden administration clumsily tried to tout its efforts to tackle the climate crisis. while boasting that the United States is now drilling more oil than even under Donald Trump to show that it is aware of public anxiety over rising gas prices, an eternal political headache for presidents.

“We have no strategic interest in reducing the global energy supply,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary. “It would increase prices at the pump for the American people, worldwide, because it would reduce the available supply.”

While the United States takes a relatively small amount of oil from Russia — only about 3% of all oil imports — experts say it’s telling that an administration that voices the need to cut fossil fuels has struggled to cut itself off from its dependence on oil and gas.

“It’s a gross oversimplification to call this a fossil fuel war, it’s a little too flippant,” said Jonathan Elkind, an energy policy expert at Columbia University and a former energy adviser to the administration. of Barack Obama. “But it is an undeniable reality that Russia derives a significant portion of its revenue from oil and gas and that the American gasoline habit contributes to global demand for 100 million barrels of oil every day.

“Do we want to find ourselves in 10 years where we have bent the curve of oil consumption and emissions towards decarbonization, or do we want to sit there and think ‘where has the last 10 years gone?’ If the United States is not part of the solution, we will jeopardize our influence on the world stage and the fate of everyone here and around the world.

As Europe belatedly tries to wean itself off Russian gas, efforts to phase out fossil fuels in the United States have failed. Biden’s legislative plan to dramatically increase renewable energy is moribund in Congress, thanks in large part to Manchin, while the conservative-leaning Supreme Court mulls whether to weaken the administration’s ability to regulate power plants coal-fired electrics.

The invasion of Ukraine also sparked pressure from the US oil and gas industry and its allies in Congress to relax regulations to allow more domestic drilling. Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said delaying new gas pipelines while “Putin is actively and effectively using energy as an economic and political weapon against our allies is simply unacceptable.” Even Elon Musk, founder of electric vehicle company Telsa, said that “we need to increase oil and gas production immediately. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

The White House has pointed out that the industry is already sitting on a large number of unused drilling leases – a total of 9,000 unused permits covering 26 million acres of US public land – while environmentalists say the crisis puts in highlights the dangers of being at the mercy of a volatile world oil price, now near an all-time high, rather than turning to solar, wind and other clean energy sources.

“The fossil fuel industry’s so-called solution to this crisis is nothing more than a recipe for enabling fossil fuel fascists like Vladimir Putin for years to come,” said Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action. “As long as our economy depends on fossil fuels, we will be at the mercy of petro-dictators who wield their influence on global energy prices like a weapon.

“Clean energy made in the United States is affordable, reliable and free from the volatility of oil and gas markets. The best way to weaken Putin’s grip on the global energy market is to get America out of fossil fuels.

In Kyiv, Krakovska said she would stay in her hometown as the Russian military advanced, after declining offers of relocation to foreign research institutes. “I know that’s what Putin wants, that we run away from Ukraine so they can have our beautiful country,” she said.

“I told scientists from other countries that I would collaborate with them, but from an independent and free Ukraine. I couldn’t be anywhere else knowing kyiv was in the hands of these barbarians.

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