COP27 continued the dialogue that commenced with the adoption of the Paris Agreement by 196 parties in Paris on 12 December 2015. This agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. The goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C and ideally to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
Implementing the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation that involves altering production and consumption with a focus on minimising and even removing negative environmental impacts. For governments this is about facilitating a rapid shift away from energy systems that produce greenhouse gas emissions and to environmentally friendly forms of transportation. The Paris Agreement is about actions intended to mitigate and adapt everyday living to reduce negative environmental impacts and tends to ignore the impacts that war has on climate change.
Russia is on the highway towards a rapidly shrinking economy
Russia’s war with Ukraine highlighted Europe’s over dependency on Russian gas and oil. It also alerted all nations to the dangers of being too dependent on any one country for essential supplies. One reading of this is that all countries must enhance their national economic security, and this includes energy and food security combined with access to critical resources and components. One perverse impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that it will undermine the long-term global market for Russian petrochemicals and will hasten the transition to renewable energy.
Russia needs to rapidly diversify its economy away from its over-dependence on revenues from oil and natural gas. This diversification process is impossible as long as sanctions are imposed on Russia. Russia’s only solution is to withdraw from Ukraine and to negotiate some settlement that would facilitate Russia’s economic diversification. This is not going to happen under Vladimir Putin, and Russia is currently on the highway towards a rapidly shrinking and declining economy.
There is another side to Russia’s war with Ukraine. On Tuesday 8 November 2022 there was a COP27 side event to discuss ‘Impacts of Russia’s War against Ukraine on European Climate Policies and Ways Forward’. The problem with side events in that they are side events. For this discussion, the focus is on European policies in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This is a too modest and European focussed discussion.
All war is unnecessary
Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has major direct, indirect, and induced impacts on global warming. Every missile or shot fired by Russia results in the release of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. All war is unnecessary, and all war has major local and global negative environmental impacts.
Direct impacts include the mass destruction of cities resulting in the unnecessary release of carbon embedded in physical infrastructure. They also include anything that immediately impacts on everyday living that enhances emissions, for example the unnecessary release of carbon due to forced migration. Indirect impacts include emissions related to reconstruction, but also the production of weapons as well as habitat destruction or contamination. The delivery of humanitarian aid has a large carbon footprint. Induced, include the long-term impacts on health, inflation, poverty, and food insecurity. Induced also include the opportunity costs of war, or the costs related to engaging in one activity rather than another.
All the investment and resources that Russia is expending on war with Ukraine could be applied to reducing Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions and in enhancing the quality of life of all Russian citizens. This investment could also have been spent on facilitating Russia’s economic diversification. Russia could have the best quality of life of all countries and a diversified economy, but instead the decision was to waste resources in producing weapons and engaging in unnecessary war.
Russia must be held to account for crimes against humanity and the climate
War is about waste and destruction and this includes unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. COP27 could agree to label all wars as unnecessary and as environmental crimes, climate crimes or as climate violations. The problem here is in defining ‘unnecessary’. To Vladimir Putin, his Ukrainian war is necessary. Nevertheless, Putin has a major conflict of interests here, and is unable to make an informed or objective judgment of his actions.
When Russia’s war with Ukraine concludes then there needs to be an assessment of crimes against humanity, war crimes and climate crimes. An analysis needs to be made of the direct, indirect, and induced impacts of the war on climate change. Russia must be held to account, and this includes financing actions intended to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the war. There must be a rigorous, robust, and transparent assessment with this process designed to act as a deterrent.