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Ukraine-Russia war: Climate change targets must not be a casualty of Vladimir Putin’s aggression – Martyn McLaughlin
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Ukraine-Russia war: Climate change targets must not be a casualty of Vladimir Putin’s aggression – Martyn McLaughlin


The inauspicious circumstances were made worse by the summit-cum circus known as COP26. This event packed every nook and corner of the venue. For a mere ten minutes, it was interesting to talk about the intersection of climate crisis and defense.

Atrocities committed in Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s forces have brought such issues into sharp focus in recent days.

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The coronavirus pandemic had already exposed the fragility of global supply chains in our interconnected world, but Russia’s invasion has torn the plaster off a wound that had barely begun healing.

This is evident more than anywhere else, including in energy supplies. The effects of the crisis are already being felt across the globe, with record prices for garage forecourts and spiralling household costs that are driving already vulnerable families deeper into poverty.

Although no one knows when the price rise will end, it is unlikely that it will happen anytime soon. Germany’s decision to cancel the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in light of Putin’s bloody incursion will see to that, and there are two possible scenarios which would further exacerbate the situation.

Prices would rise if Russia turned off its oil and natural gas supplies either as a preemptive strike or in retaliation against US, EU and UK sanctions. The more likely course of action – that those sanctions become tougher and target Russian energy exports – would have the same impact.

The West has so far resisted any such moves. For all that Moscow is reliant on oil and as receipts – they were worth around £179 billion in 2021, approximately half of Russia’s export revenue – EuropeIt is in a difficult position. Around 40 per cent of the EU’s natural gas imports come from Russia, and the same is true for around a quarter of its oil.

The possibility that Russian oil and natural gas is restricted should not be used as an excuse for abandoning the goal of net zero carbon emissions. (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

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The Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, rightly pointed to the fact that the UK isn’t dependent on Russian natural gas. The UK’s largest source of Russian gas is the North Sea. However, the bulk of our imports are from Norway and the North Sea.

He also acknowledged that the reliability of our energy supply doesn’t prevent households and businesses from falling foul to wholesale price rises, as they are determined globally.

It is a sad situation that confirms a simple truth: the longer Europe waits to take multilateral action against its dependence on fossil fuels, then the greater the danger.

Russia’s long-held geopolitical weapon is the control of the energy supply chains. This leverage can prolong the horrors that are unfolding from Ukraine every hour, and European leaders realize that it is necessary to take a substantial financial hit in order to end them.

They have resisted, but this only shows the need to respond to the climate crisis. This recognizes the importance and security of building economies that are based on renewable energy sources.

It’s not surprising that some people in the UK are calling for the UK to continue with the extraction of oil and gas from existing North Sea fields. Due to the current cost of living crisis, such arguments were already growing in popularity. The war in Ukraine serves as another pretext.

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group – a caucus of around 20 Tory backbenchers – and its cheerleaders have been increasingly vocal since the Russian invasion began, with some pushing for the fracking debate to be reopened, or insisting that coal plants should be fired up.

These shortsighted decisions should be rejected. Not only would they have a minimal impact on Putin’s ability to bankroll his war, they would do little to influence the global wholesale markets.

Only last month, the Climate Change Committee, the UK and Scottish governments’ independent advisers, stressed that increased extraction of North Sea hydrocarbons would not materially affect oil or gas prices, and in any case, the resources that remain are pitifully small; it estimates that even extracting all proven UK reserves and resources from new fields would only meet about one percentage point of European gas demand each year to 2050.

Instead, we must acknowledge that economic, climate and national security policies are all interconnected and that as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels, all three will be exposed to the same dangers that we are currently experiencing.

Progress is being made towards removing Europe from oil and gas. This year, a 15% increase in the output is expected due to an increase in solar power and wind power. These trends must be accelerated and not curbed.

It is telling that in its ten-point plan to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian energy, the International Energy Agency places great emphasis on the growth of renewable projects, and the speedy rollout of energy-efficiency measures such as smart thermostats. Other sensible steps, such as increasing strategic gas reserves during the transition are also recommended.

Ending Russia’s grip over the European energy market will not be easy, nor will it be quick, but it must be done. In the space of a few weeks, the world’s geopolitical fault lines have shifted. This is an opportunity to not only end our dependence on Russian oil, but also to stop relying on Russian oil and other gas.

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