We can’t let our climate be the latest casualty of war

As the war in Ukraine continues to tragically unfold, the ripple effects are being felt around the world. These effects will last far longer than the war itself, and include stalling our fight against climate change.

This is already playing out across three critical arenas; on the politics of climate change, our global energy supply, and food security. No matter the circumstances, effective climate policy requires difficult and often brave decisions, because somewhere along the way, you’re bound to upset the balance of business as usual. But business as usual must be disrupted – we know this and we have known this for quite some time. Any moment that we divide our focus on climate policy is potentially devastating.

While many countries and leaders have necessarily shifted their focus to security and sanctions, their attention has been pulled away from the larger, potentially more catastrophic effects of climate change that continue to play out across borders. Politicians have to support their people through the hardships of the energy crisis and cost of living increases, but it can’t be at the expense of consistent climate policy.

Energy prices will increase due to the war. Instead of relaxing climate policies to counteract this, we could support the most vulnerable people with energy support checks, while keeping the long-term policy of removing fossil fuels. Supply chains will be likewise impacted in the short term, and people will need help as we all needed during COVID-19, making it critical for policy makers to balance relief measures with climate policies that will deliver results in the mid and long term. And while the policy decisions around climate change are often behind the scenes, repercussions at the gas pump have put the war in Ukraine front and centre for many citizens as sanctions have cut much of the world off from Russian oil and gas supplies. This has highlighted a massive challenge in our global energy supply, forcing many countries to reconsider their fairly recent decisions to phase out carbon and diesel due to the shortages in gas.

But what does this mean for climate?

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is already near impossible under the best of circumstances, but if developed nations don’t consider the long term effects of their short term decisions, we’ll truly miss our chance. Already, Germany and Italy have fired up old coal power plants as a temporary solution until alternative sources of energy are established. Neither they nor anyone else know how long that will take. I do see one silver lining in the long term. Those countries without access to oil and gas may reconsider their energy independence through renewables, creating a more concerted push towards solar, wind, and even nuclear energy (the latter of which may be the biggest and most divisive side effect of the energy crisis overall, and a subject for another article). But again, this takes time.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is already near impossible under the best of circumstances.”

Solar panels don’t appear overnight, nor does the infrastructure to support them, and in the short term countries like Sri Lanka and Nigeria face rolling blackouts and dangerous rationing that require short term measures to ensure access to basic services. Until we prioritise a shift towards green energy, many developing countries will continue to suffer the consequences, and therefore will be tempted to relax energy polices. We must support those countries to accelerate the transition and improve their energy independence agenda.

Finally, and perhaps most devastating, is the effect on food security. We have lost two bread baskets from the global economy – Ukraine due to Russia’s invasion and Russia due to the sanctions levied against it. Combined, these countries exported more than a quarter of the world’s wheat. Forty percent of wheat and corn from Ukraine went to the Middle East and Africa where many countries are already facing food shortages and hunger issues and where the risk is high of pushing millions of people into poverty.

Again, what does this mean for climate?

Facing food shortages, many countries will relax their land-use policies, allowing for suboptimal agricultural production to creep back in, or remove incentives for forest conservation, both of which will have enormous impacts on climate. The food crises will be one of the more devastating effects of the war outside Ukraine, and it will be felt for years, putting a huge social pressure on governments around Africa and the world. Reshaping supply chains in the short term and accelerating climate smart solutions in the midterm is the only agenda we can develop to avoid what otherwise will become a famine in many parts of the world, and as a result, a destruction of nature as people look for ways to feed their families.

We know that nature is currently the only viable option we have for pulling carbon out of our atmosphere, and if we’re shifting towards a more carbon intensive economy due to the war, we must compensate for those emissions by doubling down on the conservation of nature. The reality is that the food security crisis puts nature at risk. The Ukraine war is a horrifying humanitarian disaster. It’s also a perfect storm that puts our climate at risk unless governments – especially those from developed economies – are brave enough to continue pushing the climate agenda and supporting countries across the world to navigate the energy and food crises by offering relief domestically and deploying capital internationally.

These solutions already exist, we just need to harness and support them.

This article was originally published by Palladium.