For nearly two weeks, the world has been fully occupied with the crisis in Ukraine. There have been a few recent instances of one country attacking another; however, this has not happened in Europe since the 1940s. Backed by the West’s material and military aid, the spirited opposition of Ukraine against Russian advances has raised the fear of the war continuing longer and becoming more devastating.
Forced migration has become a major concern as more than two million Ukrainians have already moved to EU territory. There is a fear that the refugee number might reach five million. Though Russian oil and gas are still outside the West’s sanction regime, the uncertainty over the supply has already increased the energy prices worldwide.
Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe; there is also fear that the war might lead to a global food crisis. Over and above, the grim situation in Ukraine has brought back the high risk of a nuclear war or the use of dirty bombs after several decades.
During the din of conversation on all these emerging threats and risks, the world seems to have forgotten that the planet’s life is itself in danger due to the unprecedented climate change the world is confronted with. There was an expectation that with the nearing of the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world would reset its eyes on climate change, but the situation in Ukraine has belied that hope.
Window is narrowing
Due to global media’s complete focus on Ukraine, almost no one noticed when the United Nations climate panel, IPCC, released the second instalment of its latest climate assessment on the 28th of February. More than 270 researchers from 67 countries have concluded that climate change has negatively affected the world much faster than it was earlier predicted, and the window is narrowing more quickly to escape from the worst impacts of rising temperatures.
More than 40% of the world’s population lives in regions highly vulnerable to climate change, which has already resulted in significant deaths and sufferings. The IPCC report loudly rings a warning bell, saying that global warming reaching 1.5 degrees C in the near term is very likely to lead to multiple climate hazards and multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.
The Climate Summit at Glasgow in November 2021 had failed to get a binding commitment on further cutting down carbon emissions from the countries to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C but had kept that hope somewhat alive.
However, to achieve that target, the world needs to cut down 50% of its greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade. This is a gigantic task, and that can only happen when the global leaders are on the same page, not when they are preparing to fight the next world war against each other.
When Joe Biden was elected to office, he promised to be the ‘climate president’, but has been able to do little in the last year to show that he has the political and moral muscle to lead the world on this issue. Politically he has failed to get China on his side to fight this battle as it is not rocket science that without the active collaboration of China, there is no way the ambition of limiting the global temperature to 1.5 degrees C can possibly be achieved.
His failure to get his ambitious legislative agenda ‘Build Back Better’ act passed by the US Congress raises even fear of his own country failing in its commitment to cutting down emissions.
Rising energy costs
To rein in rising energy costs after Russia-Ukraine crisis, Biden has forgotten his commitment of transiting to renewable energy. He has even released 30 million barrels of oil from the US strategic reserve and has asked his allies to release another 30 million barrels.
In his State of Union address, Biden mainly spoke on Ukraine and made only passing remarks on climate change. While Biden is in a very tight spot on the home front, the situation in Ukraine has made it almost impossible for him to get support from China and Russia to pursue his global climate agenda successfully.
The conflict in their backyard has also taken the climate change issue off the table of the European powers. There is a hope that the issue will fasten the process of European countries transiting to renewable energy to reduce their dependence on the Russian supply of oil and gas, but this will take time even if it happens. Moreover, when the continent is gripped in the fear of a war, the concern for climate change is neither a priority for policymaking nor an important electoral issue.
The crisis in Ukraine itself, directly and indirectly, contributes to increased carbon emissions by deliberate and accidental damages of infrastructure, the loss of vegetation, and the need for the supply of humanitarian aids. Most of the countries in the continent are in preparation or already engaged in producing and importing more arms.
The carbon footprints of arms production and transportation are also exceptionally high. While Europe is diverting its resources for buying arms and preparing to host millions of refugees, its financial support to the South for the mitigation and adaptation of climate change is bound to dwindle.
The conflict in Ukraine has undoubtedly posed a severe challenge to established international order and caused a massive humanitarian crisis. It needs to end immediately for many reasons, and one of the critical ones is to put climate change back at the top of the global agenda where it deserves to be.