Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels is paying for Putin’s war in Ukraine
Liz Saville Roberts writes for The National
This article was published in The National on Saturday 5 March
Our response to Putin’s war on Ukraine must include ending our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all
IPCC report and Ukraine war must provide the impetus to accelerate our green transition, writes Liz Saville Roberts MP
As climate change dangerously and increasingly undermines the foundations of our global order, environment and economic security, we urgently need to have a coordinated response to these crises.
In both war and climate catastrophe, it is the poorest and most marginalised in society who suffer the most. That has been proven again this week with the humanitarian impact of the horrific conflict against Ukraine and the publication of the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
We cannot therefore treat these two crises in isolation.
Sadly, it seems to have taken the roar of Russian jets and missiles raining down horror on Ukrainian civilians to wake the West to the geopolitical need and climate opportunity of weaning ourselves off Russian hydrocarbons. Worth $123 billion to the Russian government last year, Russian oil and gas has long hamstrung Europe’s decarbonisation while financing Russia’s war chest.
It is no exaggeration to say that the failure by Western governments to decarbonise is paying for Putin’s war, with Shell calculating that at current export flows and prices, Western democracies finance a Russian T-90 battle tank every twenty minutes.
In future, this will hopefully no longer be the case. The new Nordstream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany is now dead in the water – and this horrific war may just hasten the drive for clean energy security, both on the European continent and in Britain.
So far, commitment by the Conservative government in Westminster has been lacking. A much-vaunted ban on Russian vessels introduced by transport secretary, Grant Shapps, this week does not cover cargo. This means that - during a bloody war on innocent civilians in Ukraine by Russia - several ships carrying gas or oil purchased from Kremlin-controlled entities have docked in the UK.
To reiterate the words of Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price this week: Not a single drop of Russian oil should be offloaded in Wales while innocent blood is being shed in Ukraine.
In the longer term, both the Welsh and UK Governments must emphasise that the solution to the energy crisis is not to drill new gas fields in the North Sea - which would years to bring online at great cost - but instead to double-down on our renewable and low-carbon revolution. We need to learn from rivals like China who installed more offshore wind in 2021 alone than every other country combined over the last five years.
We therefore need more urgency and impact from our net-zero commitments so we can deliver green energy security from petro-autocrats and meaningful climate action in the short-time we have left to make a difference.
As the heart-wrenching stories and images from Ukraine and its bordering countries, as well as other conflicts like in Afghanistan and Syria, we must always remember the humanitarian consequences of global crises. The UK’s limp response to the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe does not bode well when the IPCC report suggests 3.6 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change, threatening 40 million climate refugees in South Asia alone.
And what about the aggressor, or the Gulf nations who have not only abstained against condemning Russia violence but continued to pump and generate massive profits from the energy crisis? They should know, first and foremost, that climate change will affect them too.
Already, heatwaves across Russia are not only accelerating permafrost melt and methane release, but are leading to mass subsistence, destroying infrastructure as well as creating environmental hazards like the Norilsk oil spill which released 20,000 tonnes of diesel into riverways. If Putin really cared about Russia and its people, he would stop waging war on his peaceful neighbours and instead focus on protecting the people of Russia from the global threat that is climate change.
Three things must therefore happen quickly to help solve these parallel crises:
First, we need to redouble our effort to mitigate climate change by vastly improving net-zero action on both the supply- and demand-side.
Secondly, we must face the reality that due to climate change, threats will only multiply. This requires a more humane approach to humanitarian support, so that when a nation like Wales declares itself a “Nation of Sanctuary”, it can meaningfully act and not be held back by Westminster hostility.
Finally, as climate threats grow even as we decarbonise, those countries dependent on hydrocarbons need to be convinced to act now, rather than later, on net-zero for all our sakes.
As humans, we find it difficult to focus on two things at once. It is perhaps a natural coping mechanism to ignore one crisis in the middle of a more immediate one. But we must address these crises as one. The IPCC report must now act as the impetus that shocks us into speeding up our green transition so that never again can a bloody war be financed by Europe’s addiction to fossil fuels.