Russia’s War Is Impacting the Global Environmental Agenda




Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, Sustainability and Climate Protection

By Angelina Davydova

The massive impact Russia’s war of aggression has had on global structures about a year after the start of the invasion is also evident in the field of the environmental agenda, writes GDL member Angelina Davydova in her article for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Although the two major UN conferences on environment, COP27 on climate change in November and COP15 on biodiversity in December did not officially address the Russian war, it featured “the consequences of the war for the climate, the energy sector, food, and biodiversity heavily. Since the war in Ukraine has created new problems on the energy market and forced a new appraisal of the transition to renewable energy.”

Concerns about adequate energy supplies and the associated perceived dependence on Russia have led many countries to put climate issues on the back burner and popularise old concepts of energy supply. This is also what Davydova writes: “The financing of programs to reduce emissions (primarily in developing countries) would be cut, partly as a result of a sharp increase in spending by Western countries on arms. The threat emerged of a slowdown in decarbonisation.”

But apparently such worries were not totally justified, because the war also led to an “increasing talk of the interconnectivity between the war in Ukraine, climate change, issues of energy and food security, the destruction of ecosystems, and a reduction in biodiversity.”

However, Davydova’s paper summarises three points that she identifies as consequences of the war for the climate agenda:

Firstly, the global energy markets are transforming: many countries have changed their oil and gas suppliers, and are hurriedly building infrastructure for liquefied natural gas, relaunching coal stations, considering extending the lifespan of nuclear power stations (or building new ones), and investing in new fossil fuel projects.

Secondly, the war is refashioning global food and fertiliser markets. A whole range of countries are planning to expand grain production and the sourcing of raw materials for fertiliser production, which represents a threat to ecosystems and biodiversity.

Thirdly, reductions in the supplies of metals from Ukraine, along with partial sanctions and limits on supplies from Russia, are transforming global metallurgy.

In Russia itself, the war has also had an impact on climate policies: There is already a discernible trend toward de-greening legislation, as well as the canceling or relaxing of various kinds of environmental standards, requirements, and checks.“

Russia is in an ambivalent situation: Firstly, it is promoting an energy transition and working on its own projects such as an experiment on the Far East island of Sakhalin to become carbon neutral by the end of 2025.

Then, on the one hand, the country is trying to bind non-Western states more strongly to it because of its political marginalisation: „Employing rhetoric about neocolonialism and the construction of a multipolar world, the Russian authorities are attempting to bring non-Western countries over to their side, including through the use of technological collaboration on green issues“. On the other hand, at the conferences Russia spoke of the impossibility of excluding individual countries from the global climate dialogue.

Among many other aspects, Angelina Davydova nevertheless writes: The UN summits demonstrate that Russia remains interested in green diplomacy, something it has been working on since 2014. What will be more difficult, however: Moscow should not hope for much in the way of new partners: they are more interested in getting Russian natural resources at a discount than in high-tech collaboration on green development.

Ultimately, the Russian invasion of Ukraine will have repercussions that at first seem paradoxical: The Institute of Economic Forecasting within the Russian Academy of Sciences predicts that Russia’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have almost halved by 2050, mainly due to technological limitations.

Finally, A fall in GDP, decrease in Russia’s share in the global economy, and depopulation could all reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Russia. To a large extent, we will see a repetition of the 1990s, when Russian emissions fell by over 30 percent—surpassing the country’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol—due to a steep decline in industrial production following the economic fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union. But that can hardly be considered genuine decarbonisation.

Read Davydova’s entire article here.


About the author:

Angelina Davydova specialises in economic and political aspects of global and Russian climate policy, and has been covering the UN climate negotiations since 2008. She actively writes about the environment and contributes to Russian and international media as a journalist.

Published on February 15, 2023.

Photo Credit: Karsten Wurth

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