Russia-Ukraine War Has Derailed Global Energy Transition

Several European countries are temporarily returning to fossil fuel amid an energy crisis, raising concerns that the Russia-Ukraine war could prove to be a setback for the global clean energy transition.

The UN Climate Change Conference — COP27 — was conducted in November 2022, requiring all countries to make an extra effort to address the climate crisis. Or as UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it: “COP27 concludes with much homework and little time.”

Germany is restarting its coal-fired power plants as gas supplies from Russia dwindle amid western sanctions. CNBC reported in October 2022 that Danish authorities ordered energy firm Orsted to continue or restart operations at three fossil fuel facilities to ensure electricity supply in the country.

Coal is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. The Washington Post reported in June 2022 that Austria, Italy and Netherlands also planned to resurrect coal plants.

Global Efforts to Combat Climate Change

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, and came into force in 2005. It led to reduced emissions in some countries and was instrumental in building national and international capacity for greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting, accounting and emissions markets. At least 18 countries that had Kyoto targets for the first commitment period have had sustained absolute emission reductions for at least a decade from 2005, of which two were countries with economies in transition.

The Paris Agreement — adopted at the COP21 summit in Paris in 2015 with near universal participation — entered into force in 2016, aimed at combating climate change.

Delegations from around 200 countries attended the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, last year where key commitments were made regarding climate action. But most of them were not kept primarily due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to a London-based magazine New Scientist. The invasion drew strict sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

This year’s COP27 summit closed with a breakthrough agreement to provide funding for vulnerable countries hit by floods, droughts and other climate disasters. Pakistan will be among the first recipients of funding, as reported by Reuters last month.

Reality Check?

Oxfam put the true value of 2020 climate financing provided by developed nations at $21 billion to $24.5 billion, against a reported figure of $68.3 billion in public finance. Including mobilized private finance, the tally moves to $83.3 billion, still short of the $100 billion per year commitment.

“Rich country contributions not only continue to fall miserably below their promised goal but are also very misleading in often counting the wrong things in the wrong way,” Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam international climate policy lead, said in an October 2022 statement. “They’re overstating their own generosity by painting a rosy picture that obscures how much is really going to poor countries.”

The agreement to provide loss and damage funding for vulnerable countries, such as Pakistan, was celebrated, but its usefulness and effectiveness is yet to be seen. There is a clear need for countries to step up funding and implementation of adaptation actions.

International adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10 times below estimated needs and the gap is widening, according to a recent UN report. Estimated annual adaptation needs are $160 billion to $340 billion by 2030 and $315 billion to $565 billion by 2050.

“Climate finance is scarce, unpredictable and hard to access,” COP27 President Sameh Shoukry said earlier this month. “This injustice in the process threatens its very durability. Without climate justice, the whole regime could potentially collapse and lose relevance and credibility.”

Back to the War

In addition to creating a humanitarian crisis, the war has threatened the global energy transition — at least for now. It has caused significant greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, further complicating efforts to limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5 ºC.

The war will have a long-lasting impact on climate change and GHG emissions, with a redirection of energy flows expected to occur in the short- or mid-term, according to a recent report jointly produced by multiple stakeholders, including Climate Focus.

“Impact of the war in Ukraine may also result in policy changes in many countries throughout Europe and the world,” it added.

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