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War distracts from climate change: Ukraine

World leaders will only be able to focus on climate change when there is peace, says Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

November 9, 2022
By Gloria Dickie and William James
9 November 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has distracted world governments from efforts to combat climate change, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video message played at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

“There can be no effective climate policy without the peace,” he said on Tuesday, highlighting the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global energy supplies, food prices and Ukraine’s forests.

“This Russian war has brought about an energy crisis that has forced dozens of countries to resume coal-fired power generation in order to lower energy prices for their people … to lower prices that are shockingly rising due to deliberate Russian actions.”

“(It) brought an acute food crisis to the world, which hit worst those suffering the existing manifestations of climate change … the Russian war destroyed five million acres of forests in Ukraine in less than six months,” Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine is hosting an exhibition space this year for the first time at a UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. But unlike the other booths at COP27 that are festooned in colourful logos, flags and greenery, Ukraine’s stood out for its bleakness – covered in gravely grey to symbolise the war at home.

In his video appearance, Zelenskiy wore a trademark green T-shirt and faced the video camera from behind a desk. He criticised world leaders for paying lip service to climate change without delivering real change. He did not name individual states.

“There are still many for whom climate change is just rhetoric or marketing … but not real action,” he said.

“They are the ones who hamper the implementation of climate goals, they are the ones in their offices who make fun of those who fight to save life on the planet, although in public they seem to support the work for the sake of nature.”

“They are the ones who start wars of aggression when the planet cannot afford a single gunshot because it needs global joint action.”

Members of Ukraine’s delegation to COP27 said they hoped their presence drew global attention to the climate and environmental consequences of Russia’s February invasion.

“It’s important to show the situation in Ukraine,” said Svitlana Grynchuk, the country’s deputy environment minister. “We also try to think about … our climate-neutral and environmentally friendly future.”

Grynchuk described renewable energy projects destroyed in the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops, and offered a hopeful note on what’s to come: “We have a lot of plans for rebuilding our country. It will be greener.”

Ukraine’s environment minister, Ruslan Strilets, is expected at COP27 next week.

The CEO of Ukraine’s biggest private power producer DTEK, said at COP27 on Tuesday that half of his company’s green energy capacity was now located in Russian occupied territory.

Overall, the country has “lost about 90 per cent of wind capacity, which is on occupied territory, and about 30 per cent of solar” in the fighting, Maxim Timchenko said.

He expressed concerned about the encroaching cold season, saying: “It will be one of the most difficult winters in the history of Ukraine. We should be realistic.”

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