Is the war in Ukraine likely to slow down the fight against climate change?

The coal-fired power plant of the Uniper Energy company and the BP refinery next to a wind generator, in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on January 16, 2020.

“We are walking with our eyes closed towards climate catastrophe” and the war in Ukraine reinforces this “madness”. In a warning more striking than ever, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, summed up the concern of many observers: does the conflict opened by Russia risk dealing a fatal blow to the ambition climate?

As the world is shaken by soaring energy prices and by the need to shed its dependence on Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible, governments face an unprecedented challenge: to act, in the short term, to guarantee hundreds of millions of citizens the opportunity to continue to heat themselves and their economies, while accelerating efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In the immediate future, the priority of the major economies is to relaunch the production of coal, oil and gas to replace the millions of barrels exported each day by the Russians. “These short-term measures risk creating a long-term dependency on fossil fuels and making it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5°C”, warned Mr. Guterres, Monday, March 21. The countries “obsessed” by this supply could “neglecting or kneeling policies to reduce use” of these same fuels.

Following a meeting of energy ministers on Thursday March 24, the Director General of the International Energy Agency (IEA) expressed the same concerns. “We must be extremely careful that the fight against climate change is not a new victim of the war led by Russia, underlined Fatih Birol. The energy sector is at a historic turning point. Concerns about the security of supply must be an additional element to push us to achieve our climate ambitions. »

Four months after the Glasgow climate conference (COP26), the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, provided for by the Paris agreement, is now “under respiratory assistance”, according to Antonio Guterres. CO emissions2 of the energy sector jumped last year, by 6%, to reach an all-time high and they are expected to increase by another 14% by 2030 – if the countries apply their climate plans – when they should reduce by 45%.

“The worst case scenario”

“Officially, no country is taking refuge behind the war in Ukraine to question its climate objectives, but in fact, some will want to exploit their fossil resources more. Staying the course is a huge challenge.”, recognizes a Western diplomat, who participated in a three-day working meeting of the G20 in Indonesia in the middle of the week. Russia is the only country to have announced that it could not meet its commitments (to reduce its net emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1900) because of international sanctions.

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