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  • Writer's pictureKartik Verma

How the war in Ukraine is affecting climate action

Updated: May 26, 2022

Our heart goes out to Ukrainians impacted by the war. It’s disheartening to see and read the horrific stories coming out from this invasion by Russia. We cannot imagine what Ukrainians around the world out there must be going through but we encourage our readers to support in any way possible. Here is a link to the UN's Humanitarian fund for Ukraine in case anyone wants to donate money.

At the same time, Ukraine’s bravery has also been praised throughout the world in holding off the Russian invasion. Here is a quote from famous historian and author Yuval Noah Harari that has stuck with us:

“Nations are ultimately built on stories. Each passing day adds more stories that Ukrainians will tell not only in the dark days ahead, but in the decades and generations to come… The president who refused to flee the capital, telling the US that he needs ammunition, not a ride; the soldiers from Snake Island who told a Russian warship to ‘go fuck yourself’; the civilians who tried to stop Russian tanks by sitting in their path. This is the stuff nations are built from. In the long run, these stories count for more than tanks”. In this regard, Putin has already lost the war.

In today’s edition, we look at how the war in Ukraine is shaping climate policies in the EU.

What to expect today:

The short term and long term impact

Image Source: Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

As countries scramble to reduce their reliance on Russia's oil and gas in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, few places are as exposed as the European Union. The EU gets roughly 40% of its gas from Russia. According to figures from research group Transport & Environment, this dependence costs around $118m a day. Recently, the EU announced its plan to move away from this Russian dependence through a plan called as REPowerEU. We break down the short term and long term goals of this plan and what it means for the climate.

What is REPowerEU?

The REPowerEU plan aims to make Europe independent of Russian fossil fuels by 2030, but the initial efforts focus solely on gas. The roadmap essentially proposes finding alternative supplies of gas in the next few months and boosting energy efficiency while doubling down on greener sources of power in the medium to longer term.

Short term: Not great but necessary

  • Increase stock levels ahead of winter: new regulations require EU countries to stock upto 90% of their gas needs by Autumn (up from current 30%)

  • Diversify with liquified natural gas (LNG) from the compressed natural gas (CNG) currently sourced from Russia. LNG has many more suppliers around the world.

Diversification to LNG is bound to increase carbon emissions in the near term but the step is necessary to ensure energy independence from Russia. However, increasing import of LNG cannot happen overnight and requires high capital investment to build pipelines, LNG import terminals - investments, if not made by the government, which will look at return on investment meaning we could be looking at LNG usage for years to come. L.N.G. import terminals are already being expanded in Belgium and Poland; a new one was recently approved in Greece with European Union funding; Germany fast-tracked the construction of two new import terminals.

Long term: In the right direction

  • Long term aim is to transition to renewables

  • Speeding up approval process for renewable projects

  • Focus on bio-methane production from agricultural waste and residues

  • Improving building infrastructure; more energy infrastructure, heat pumps, rooftop solar

Nuclear energy as an alternative

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Climate change and global security are pushing against each other in shaping the future. Nations are coming to realize they can’t meet their climate goals with renewables, like wind and solar, alone. In the US, President Biden’s infrastructure plan allocated $6bn to preserve the U.S. existing fleet of nuclear reactors. At the state level in the US, there are between 75 and 100 nuclear-energy-related bills in state legislatures across the country right now, compared to a dozen a decade ago. The war in Ukraine is making the critics of nuclear power revisit their considerations.

How is nuclear energy cleaner?

Nuclear power plants generate energy with no carbon dioxide emissions, providing an alternative to the fossil fuels that are warming the atmosphere. It generates power through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the United States avoided more than 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. That’s the equivalent of removing 100 million cars from the road and more than all other clean energy sources combined.

How many nuclear reactors are there around the world?

There are about 440 nuclear power reactors operating in more than 30 countries that supply about 10% of the world’s electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. Currently, 55 new reactors are being constructed in 19 countries, and 19 of those are in China. The U.S. only has two underway. The EU on the other hand is shutting down nuclear plants.

Are they safe?

While it is true that nuclear energy has seen some of the worst disasters (Three mile Island in US - 1979, Chernobyl in USSR - 1986 and Fukushima in Japan - 201), the statistics may suggest that nuclear power is one of the safest energy sources, responsible for just 0.07 deaths per terawatt hour generated, compared to 24.6 for coal and 4.0 for natural gas.

Fast transition to renewables through nuclear energy may just be the solution the world needs now. The war in Ukraine is making the critics of nuclear power in the EU revisit their considerations. (The climate optimist did an edition earlier on fusion powered reactors here if you want to check it out)

Source: Bloomberg, CNBC

Our take

War is never good for humanity. One thing that has not been talked about enough is how this unprovoked invasion by Russia has forced countries to re-look at their defense spending. Germany for example increased its defense spending from 1.5% of GDP to 2% of GDP. The 0.5% increase is equal to about $20bn which will now be NOT allocated to healthcare, education and climate change. Similar increases in budget by other EU nations mean less funding for action against climate change which is not good for humanity.

Recommendations from the team

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  • Youtube - Inside world’s largest fusion reactor (9 min video)

  • Youtube - Environmental impact of Russia-Ukraine war (4 min video)

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