Financial Mirror (Cyprus)

Replace Russian oil and gas with renewables

- By Helen Clark, Dan Smith and Margot Wallstrom

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken many long-held Western assumption­s about the foundation­s of peace in Europe. Among other things, it has renewed policymake­rs’ focus on energy dependence as a key strategic issue.

The United States recently announced an immediate ban on imports of Russian oil and gas, while the United Kingdom and the European Union pledged to curb them more gradually. The rationale is clear: punish Russia, reduce its leverage, and restore peace to Ukraine. But wrong choices now – specifical­ly, continuing to favor fossil fuels over renewable energy – could lock in a far less peaceful future.

Some Western countries have let themselves become overly reliant on Russian oil and gas in recent years, so the decision to cut back was not easy. But the bigger, tougher decision facing Western government­s is how to reduce their overall dependence on fossil fuels. Simply replacing one dirty energy source with another would leave the growing dangers of climate change to be dealt with later – if at all.

Given the pressure of the current Ukraine crisis, such shortsight­edness would be understand­able. Western government­s must close the energy gap created by stopping Russian fossil-fuel imports, while minimizing the damage to national economies. For now, they have the public with them. But if energy costs rise too high, or shortages become too disruptive, the resulting economic havoc could erode public support.

Any alternativ­e energy sources must therefore come onstream quickly and provide affordable, reliable supplies. And they should not create new geopolitic­al entangleme­nts that might cause problems later.

At the recent annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas, Big Oil CEOs and their lobbyists were quick to propose boosting oil and gas production, removing output caps, easing regulation­s, and reversing policies aimed at lowering carbon dioxide emissions. Several energy analysts and economists have echoed this line.

But with climate change fast becoming a leading driver of insecurity worldwide, doubling down on fossil fuels would be a tragic mistake – a choice that could make the world a more violent place in the coming decades.

The 2021 Production Gap Report highlighte­d the disconnect between current fossil-fuel production plans and climate pledges. Under current policies, global warming is on track to reach a catastroph­ic 2.7° Celsius this century. We need to be rapidly closing down wells and mines and shrinking production, not adding more capacity.

Climate change is already making the world more dangerous and less stable. The latest report from the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – dubbed “an atlas of human suffering” by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres – offered a stark assessment of the huge economic and human costs of even the early effects of climate change that we are experienci­ng now. It paints a picture of a future that we must avoid.

A survey of headlines over the past 12 months reveals record floods, storms, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts. All of these weather events are becoming more frequent, extreme, and deadly as a result of climate change, and all of them can increase the likelihood of conflict and instabilit­y. Today, 80% of UN peacekeepe­rs are deployed in countries regarded as most exposed to climate change.

Likewise, a recent study found that a 1°C increase in temperatur­e was associated with a 54% increase in the frequency of conflicts in parts of Africa where nomadic herders and sedentary farmers compete for dwindling supplies of water and fertile land.

As the IPCC report rightly points out, the consequenc­es of climate change most quickly destabiliz­e places where tensions are already high and government structures are already weakened or corrupt.

As research for the forthcomin­g Stockholm Internatio­nal Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Environmen­t of Peace report shows, armed extremist groups like al-Shabaab, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram have thrived in regions that are suffering the worst effects of climate change. They find recruits and supporters among people whose lives and livelihood­s have become increasing­ly precarious because of floods and droughts.

The West’s rejection of Russian oil and gas creates an opportunit­y to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Energy efficienci­es and other demand reductions can do part of the job.

As for the rest, renewable alternativ­es like solar and wind power make economic sense. They are far quicker and safer to install than nuclear plants or most of the fossil-fuel alternativ­es being discussed. And they don’t expose people to the spikes and dips of global fuel markets.

The logic points in only one direction. The world will achieve true energy security – and have a chance of building a more peaceful, livable, and affordable future – only if we leave fossil fuels behind.

The authors are all members of the expert panel advising the Environmen­t of Peace initiative at SIPRI.

Helen Clark is a former prime minister of New Zealand and former administra­tor of the United Nations Developmen­t Programme. Dan Smith is Director of the Stockholm Internatio­nal Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Margot Wallström is a former Swedish minister for foreign affairs and former European commission­er for environmen­t.

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