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What does the Ukraine crisis mean for climate change, the environment and the economy…
Russia is currently facing a series of boycotts and punishments following the invasion of Ukraine- The US has banned Russian oil and gas imports, the UK will cut oil imports by the end of the year, and the EU will reduce its energy dependency by the end of the decade. But what impact could this have on the environment, business and our household bills?
We will be discussing the current effects of the Ukraine crisis on climate change in more detail in this article.
On February 24, the whole world went into a shock when Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia, went on for a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. Which, as per Putin’s terms, is a “special military operation” to liberate Ukraine from the influence of foreign powers and “demilitarise and degasify Ukraine.”.
Another reason that Putin gives for his invasion is the security threat to his borders which he perceives due to Ukraine’s constant interest in NATO which is the military alliance of US and other European nations.
The western powers including the rest of the world on the other hand see it as an attack on a sovereign country like Ukraine that has its own constitution, is ruled by a democratic elected government and has the complete rights to take its own course of decisions as per its own terms. For the parties on the other end of the rope, it’s not just an attack on a country but it’s an attack on democracy, freedom and world peace.
But let’s keep aside the political aspect of the conflict for a while. The war indeed brings havoc on life and livelihood of the people, no doubt in that. And with that said this, our hearts pour out for the people of the Ukraine crisis, and we urge all the political leaders involved to quickly bring out a solution to the table to end this ongoing conflict and bring back the life of Ukrainians to normal.
Apart from loss of life and economy, the wars and military conflicts also pose threat to environment and policies towards climate impact, an area that often gets ignored between wars and in general, and that oppositely requires dire attention, even in general.
So here, we’ll be focussing on knowing the impact that a military conflict, like the present on-going Russian invasion of Ukraine, brings or may bring to the environment, in particular and also to the world’s economy as whole.
Now before moving ahead, you may find this interesting…
You already know that the burning of fossil fuels is the major contributor to the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which ultimately is responsible for global warming and its induced climate change. In fact, as per IPCC report, around half of the world’s population is facing climate disasters just because of the burning of fossil fuels.
But perhaps the dark deeds of fossil fuels doesn’t stop here and it has been seen by many as the reason for wars across the middle-east countries, specially Iraq. While many argue that adding a link to western powers with oil in Iraq is just a conspiracy theory, it also marks that whenever oil is mentioned, the war comes to the picture, anyhow.
This is because Russia has built its military might upon its country’s vast oil and gas reserves lying underneath.
Svitlana Krakovska, who is Ukraine’s leading climate scientist and who was expecting to complete her IPCC report, so that it could have been released on 28th February, while drawing parallelism between climate change and this war states that the root cause of both these two is hidden inside the fossil fuels.
And that’s why realising the dependency of Putin’s army on revenue generated from Russia’s oil, the US and many European countries have put trade sanctions and a ban on Russian oils to hit back Putin’s invasion on innocent Ukrainians.
Now let’s see how a war like this or any military conflict will leave its impact on the environment and ecology. In short, since it’s the era of industrialization, the consequences can be disastrous.
Ken Conca is a professor of international relations at the American University School of International Service and the author of the book “Environmental Peacemaking and he stated, “War in industrial areas creates extensive risks of toxic contamination, given the concentration of power-generating stations, chemical plants, metalworking factories, and the like”.
He then adds, “These structures tend to be full of petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and combustible compounds that, when liberated into the environment, can do extensive short- and long-term damage.”
As far as Ukraine is concerned, it’s home to multiple industrial sites, dams, power plants, and other industrial infrastructures like any modern country in the world. So there’s an obvious risk of contamination of air, water and soil due to the damage of industrial facilities. If dams holding the megatons of water are damaged, then it may lead to disastrous flooding into the country.
Apart from the chemical and gaseous contamination of air, water and land, there’s one more danger that the wars imposes, specially in these modern times, on us and that’s more heinous than any other disaster that could happen on earth.
And that’s Radiation or radioactive decay of heavy earth metals. Exposure to radiation is dangerous because it causes severe complications like burns, cell damage, cancer and genetic mutations that the generations coming may have to suffer.
You might already know about the Chernobyl disaster that happened long back in the era of the USSR. It was 1986 when a massive explosion took place at a nuclear power plant site at Chernobyl that sent radioactive material into and nearby areas leaving the city abandoned to this day.
The severity of the hazard that happened back then can be sensed from the fact that fast forward to 2019, one of the site’s reactors was encased with a 32000 tonnes of steel structure to prevent further radiation leaks.
Well. Now, jot down that after the disintegration of the Soviet era, the abandoned city of Chernobyl now lies in Ukraine. And on February 24 the first day of the invasion itself, Russia took control of Chernobyl. The site observed increased levels of radiation afterwards which the White House quoted “incredibly alarming”.
Fortunately, the situation is under control now as per recent reports. There also occurred a power cut in between which has been restored successfully and the UN’s atomic watchdog was reportedly stated there was “no critical impact on safety”.
But it’s not just Chernobyl that’s raising the concern of risk of nuclear contamination in and around the area. This is because Ukraine houses 4 more nuclear power plants with a total of 15 reactors that are active and that also includes Europe’s largest nuclear facility at Zaporizhzhya, a city in North-western part of Ukraine. So, there is an undeniable risk of nuclear disaster to bring back the horror of the past which is the last thing that anyone would like to see in the present times.
Another area which is at stake due this war is the commitment towards our future climate goals and related policies. We’re already at a low point when it comes to global cooperation for environmental protection. And then we’ve these types of wars and conflicts which further distract us from the goal of making this planet more sustainable, which is again something which we cannot afford in the present situation.
Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) released its report where it concluded that the environmental breakdown is happening faster than ever with our current endeavours towards planet goals, which simply implies wherever we have managed to do till date is simply not enough to handle the climate crisis happening. The report also stated that the several parts of the world would become unliveable in the coming few decades if the appropriate action isn’t taken now.
Now ask yourself a question. How many of us or organisations and governments across the world are talking about the report IPCC released recently? We all know the answer. And that is simply because the area where the IPCC report expected us to focus upon is now overshadowed or hidden by the ongoing conflict between Russia-Ukraine. Is the climate crisis over? Or is it not important now? We certainly realise the answer.
So, all this clearly indicates how wars and continental conflicts can shift the paradigm of our priorities, making WAR the only centre point to focus upon excluding environmental crises and all kinds of other important issues, no matter how important they are.
And what’s more of a concern when we talk about the present Russia-Ukraine crisis is we don’t know how long it will take to end this conflict. Because the scope of the environmental crisis due to this conflict will be proportioned to the scale, length and intensity of this ongoing conflict.
So far, we’ve briefed the havoc that a war can cause to the environment and ecology, directly. But there’s more to the picture as there are indirect consequences too that one has to face resulting from such conflicts.
So, even if the physical or chemical damage can be constrained within Ukraine, the social and political impacts will leave its echo far beyond Ukraine. And that’s simply because in today’s times, no man is an island. We’re living in the era of industrialization or mass production where one country or a region fulfils the needs of others.
Indeed, steps directed from White House and European nations for banning all imports of oil from Russia to other countries will hit Putin’s war machine. But this step is also something for which both the parties will need to pay the price.
This war of oil will also exert an oil crunch in the European and US market resulting in inflation of oil prices and related commodities. Note that 40% of the EUs gas comes from Russia alone which in monetary terms amounts to $180 million per day!. This essentially tells us about the huge dependency of EUs countries, specially Germany and Poland, on the Russian oil markets.
But this is just the financial impact arising from the scenario. And what’s more? Worse than the financial impact, now several countries may need to burn more coal in order to compensate for the Russian fuels. Countries may need to extract more oil and gas resources from underground or sea bottom which is the most undesirable thing to do if you have a goal as per the Paris Agreement to keep the earth’s temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Apart from the oil and environmental crisis, the ongoing war also threatens the food security of Ukraine and other nations that largely depend upon the wheat and other crop’s exports from Ukraine.
War brings nothing but havoc and destruction, that we can all agree on. While the sustainable development goals aim to improve all three aspects of social, economic and environmental greatness, wars and military conflicts work oppositely to destroy those same goals.
The direct environmental damage and economic impacts resulting due to war is on one side, the distraction from climate goals and the indirect consequences resulting from inflation and food security crisis pose a far greater threat to the nations that are involved in the war and to the world as a whole.
So, wars and military conflicts should be avoided at all costs if we want to see this world as a better place to live in. We expect world leaders across the globe to try to solve their disputes through dialogues and diplomacy. And this on-going conflict between Russia and Ukraine must be solved by all the parties and stakeholders as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, we stand with the innocent people of Ukraine and we pray that the situation deescalates so that their life again gets back to normal. We are hopeful for the people of Ukraine and also for the environment and the planet.
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