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As a Ukrainian, I am calling for a global embargo on Russian fossil fuels

The war is devastating the country and impeding climate action, says Ukraine’s ex-deputy environment minister.

By Iryna Stavchuk

To enable global progress on climate change, two actions are paramount. The first is to cut oil and gas demand in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels in general, and Russian fossil fuels in particular, as a way of tackling rising temperatures and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The second is to support the global rule of law, and the spirit of cooperation and trust, which Russia is so desperately trying to undermine. Both need to happen now, as we near Cop27 in Egypt this November.

This year, the topic of climate has been blown aside by the war Russia is waging towards Ukraine. The fighting has had a tremendous impact on current and future climate action. Nevertheless, concrete steps are still possible – and very much needed.

There are three pillars for concrete climate action. The first is mitigation. We need more action from countries that have not yet submitted more ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – climate action plans to which any country party to the Paris Agreement is required to commit. Without domestic action, international negotiations will not yield progress.

Despite suffering Russian military aggression since 2014, and despite being far from wealthy, Ukraine has prioritised the process of updating its NDC. In fact, it is the most important element of the country’s climate policy. Ukraine’s updated national plan was approved in 2021, when I was deputy environment minister. It set a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 and increased emission reduction targets substantially.

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Ukraine’s government was focused on the goal of contributing fairly to global mitigation efforts, but we also saw the importance of achieving energy independence from Russian fossil fuels. It was a matter of national security. And the best instrument for reaching energy security globally is to develop renewable energy and implement energy-efficiency measures.

When it comes to adaptation, the second pillar, more enhanced, practical work has to be agreed at Cop27. Last year, Cop26 provided a foundation to build on, including progress on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), a key component of the Paris Agreement that aims to strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts. The conference also established the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation to assess progress and enable implementation.

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But we also need to eliminate any additional pressure on countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Russia created a global food crisis by blocking Ukrainian ports and targeting weapons at grain storages. One third of the arable lands in Ukraine is under fire; agricultural equipment has been stolen or destroyed; farmers are working under risk of death; and crop yields are often burned through military attacks. Africa is particularly affected by the artificial food crisis created by Russia, and this adds to the climate change impacts that African people already face.

When it comes to the third pillar, finance, there has been a major failure: developed countries promised to contribute $100bn annually for climate change mitigation and adaptation, but they broke that pledge. Delivery of these resources remains the core task and Cop27 was supposed to bring negotiations forward.

And the current war makes it even more difficult to achieve the climate finance target, with many countries seeing increased spending on defence, as well as on tackling the economic fallout of the fighting, as a result.

Russia spends an estimated up to $200m daily on the Ukraine war. By comparison, Moscow has contributed $13m to the Green Climate Fund in total, as part of two contribution agreements it made in 2018 and 2020. Its NDC is ranked by research platform Climate Action Tracker as critically insufficient.

Russia formally submitted a new 2030 emissions target to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November 2020. The update did not strengthen the country’s 2030 target in any real sense, as it is higher than its own 2030 emissions projections under current policies. Moreover, satellite data shows very high methane emissions from fossil fuel production in Russia, which might not be fully accounted for. As shown by global emissions monitoring satellite firm GHGSat, a single coal mine in Russia was estimated to release hundreds of thousands of tons of methane in the past year.

With such unprecedented levels of environmental damage, the world bears a heavy toll for accustomed dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

All these are only more arguments for governments around the world to unite and do everything in their powers to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, to streamline energy efficiency and increase renewable energy development. As a Ukrainian, I am calling on all countries to establish an effective embargo on Russian fossil fuels, as revenues from their sales largely contribute to the war and deaths in Ukraine.

At the Bonn climate conference in June 2022, Russia announced that it had left the Umbrella negotiation group, a coalition of countries that formed after the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. It is now time for the rest of the world to unite and bring back stability and peace.

We must stand up against aggressors and ensure that no one will be able to leverage disruptions in energy and food supplies as a weapon against other nations.

This article originally appeared in an Energy and Climate Change Spotlight supplement published on 30 September 2022. Read the full issue here.

[See also: For Ukrainians, Russia is now Tolkien’s Mordor]