synergy logo.png

Climate Crisis in the Shadow of the Russia-Ukraine War - Yaren Öztürk


The impact of climate change on ecosystems and the damage it causes to biodiversity continue to pose significant threats to all humanity. As the war between Russia and Ukraine enters its second month, countries seem to have stopped considering and taking action to achieve their climate goals for a while. Countries are now reviewing their priorities and policies in many areas. As long as the main topic of the political agenda continues to be the Russian occupation of Ukraine, it seems that the investments made to weaken the effects of the climate crisis may be overshadowed by military spending for the time being.


A few days after the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, United Nations, publishing The February Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, revealed how climate change has affected the lives of billions of living creatures and how perilous way it has exterminated nature. The report stated that the impacts of the climate crisis are incrementing swiftly day by day. In addition to that, the United Nations secretary-general warned that if countries expand their use of fossil fuels instead of transforming to green energy due to Russia's growing aggression, reaching climate goals will become unattainable. He also added delays in reaching set climate goals would result in death. After the turmoil created by the war, the report innately did not attract enough attention and was ignored. Nonetheless, environmental organizations tried to seduce attention to the report afterward. On the other side, Russia's invasion of Ukraine showed how high the fossil fuel dependency of European countries on Russia is once again. Although the European Union charges sanctions on Russia and Putin in multiple areas, it still does not charge any sanctions in the field of energy and maintains buying natural gas from Russia. As Oleg Ustenko, the economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, recently stated, the world is financing Putin's war by paying Russia $700 million a day for oil and $400 million for natural gas.

Since invading Ukraine, Russia, the world's largest exporter of fossil gas and oil, has sold more than 11 billioneuros of fossil fuels to the European Union for heating purposes, starting car engines, and generating electricity. A short time after Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Union declared plans for more rapid installation of wind turbines and solar panels to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. Germany remarked that it had allocated 200 billion euros by 2035 to decarbonize its electricity supply. However, there is still no reduction in fuel taken from Russia. On the other hand, countries are looking for new ways to replace Russian gas with fossil fuels from other countries to decrease the fossil fuels bought from Russia. The ongoing war and the policies implemented by the governments are acquiring various criticisms from environmental organizations. Climate scientists entitle the war between Russia and Ukraine as a fossil fuel war; they emphasize that not ending this dependency will be an obstacle to achieving climate goals.


To what extent the continuing war in Ukraine damage is made to the environment is not entirely determined yet. According to the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program’s research, after the Russian army entered Chechnya, Russia contaminated 30 percent of Chechen lands. The environmental conditions in the region have not been reached a sufficient level still today. Half of the agricultural lands in Chechnya are still not in a proper condition to be cultivated. According to a recent Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) report, about 36 mines were submerged in the Donbas region of Ukraine. The mines likely released methane gases and heavy metals into the water, which means that water pollution in Ukraine will increase. Furthermore, the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which is the scene of hot conflicts and is still under Russian blockade, worries environmentalists about the damage that will spread to the environment if the possibility of damage to iron and steel factories. The increasing emissions because of military activities, debris and toxic wastes caused by the destruction of industrial and fuel storage facilities, and water and soil pollution caused by heavy metals are growing daily as the war continues. Considering the devastating effects of the Russian military's bombs and chemicals on crops, farmland, and wildlife, it may take decades for Ukraine to recover.


Although the effects of the climate crisis, which will perhaps be felt more profoundly after the war, are not at the top of the countries' agendas, it is necessary to comprehend that this is a temporary situation. Although the ongoing war in Ukraine has conveyed the case to an insoluble point, even relatively small contributions from the rest of the world are of great importance in the battle against the climate crisis. For example, according to the data of the International Energy Agency, the thermostat in a house in the European Union countries is above 22 degrees Celsius on average, and lowering it by even 1 degree will reduce the gas demand by 7 percent. Every step in this context will be hopeful for a more livable world and generations.