Climate goals and the collateral damage from Putin’s war
The longer-range impacts of Vladimir Putin’s war of choice on Ukraine are beginning to emerge. These include added uncertainties to financial markets, increases in defense spending within NATO member countries and the elevation of foreign policy as a major issue in 2022 elections in the western democracies.
Add to this list the significant collateral damage to implementing climate change goals adopted by 190-plus nations in Paris in 2015. These goals aimed to limit a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5C. The recent Conference of the Parties summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November reaffirmed this commitment.
Multilateral negotiations on global-scale issues are uniquely dependent upon attainment of trust and transparency to build confidence in the negotiating process. They are also uniquely vulnerable to disruption from conflicts among the principal negotiating parties.
Such is the case from Putin’s war on Ukraine. Four factors explain why, for the foreseeable future, climate change implementation will be significantly sidetracked with the result that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will increase at a higher rate. These factors include:
- The global scramble to secure oil and gas supplies as nations anticipate further disruptions to Russian exports to Europe and beyond. At a time of growing concern of methane emissions from pipelines and other infrastructure, the natural gas bridge to the future has just received an extended warranty.
- Inflation, already rising to levels not seen in two generations, that will further increase as the result of removing Russian oil and gas supplies from the global market. In the United States, public concerns over rising inflation have dampened political support for major new spending initiatives to curb GHGs such as the Biden administration’s Build Back Better program.
- The international system’s increasing fracture as democratic nations seek to isolate and punish Putin for his Ukrainian transgression, while authoritarian leaders endorse him. China has recently reaffirmed its support for Putin’s regime, and other major GHG-emitting nations such as Brazil and India have maneuvered closer to Putin to position themselves to leverage economic benefits. Such developments further splinter an already fragile international process and reinforce a central fact that authoritarian political leaders do not make good collaboration partners, on climate and other issues, because of their fundamental hostility to transparency and good governance.
- Political leaders in the western democracies’ limited bandwidth to focus on climate change for the foreseeable future. Their political energies, instead, will focus on strengthening military alliances and stabilizing their economies for a lower inflation trajectory. In Germany, there is now an active debate on finding substitutes for existing Russian gas imports and whether to reverse an earlier decision to phase out nuclear energy. In the United States, the Biden administration will continue to face implacable opposition from a Republican Party focused on recapturing the House and Senate in the November elections.
Climate activists will be outraged by these developments, but outrage is not a political strategy. How, then, should supporters of additional climate change actions adjust their lens in view of the redirection of political priorities across Europe and America? With the overall objective being one of finding ways to make progress, several steps are recommended, including:
- Strengthening coalitions that advance economic development and jobs creation through improvements to infrastructure and technology investments. While the full Build Back Better initiative is no longer on the table, parts of it — modernizing the electricity grid, deploying electric vehicle charging stations, funding hydrogen development and carbon capture technologies — can command widespread political support and leverage significant private sector funding.
- Implementing regulations to reduce high-priority GHG emissions. Controlling methane leaks in oil and gas operations, scaling California vehicle emissions standards across the country, and requiring more energy efficient consumer products are just a few available options.
- Accelerating partnerships to reduce high-priority GHG emissions. In particular, deepening of private sector collaborations to decarbonize value chains represent cost-effective and highly beneficial emission control initiatives.
Putin’s war is leading to the loss of valuable time in addressing the growing climate crisis. Transitioning to greener electricity generation and transportation systems are just two examples that will likely require some additional years. The innate scale and complexity of these challenges may alone have engendered delays, but the inability of elected policymakers to devote sustained political focus and momentum to climate change solutions due to Putin’s war is its own form of collateral damage.
March 7, 2022 at 04:09PM
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