UN warns of “devastating” climate deterioration amid Russian fuel crisis

ByCristina Turcu Lugmayer

UN warns of “devastating” climate deterioration amid Russian fuel crisis

While major economies are struggling to replace Russian oil, gas, and coal supplies with any available alternative, the resulting short-term measures may fuel the destruction of the world through climate change and could “create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the window to 1.5 degrees” said United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, in a speech delivered at an Economist Sustainability Summit on March 21, 2022.

“As current events make all too clear, our continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises,” continued Guterres. “We need to fix the broken global energy mix.”

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany, one of Russia’s largest energy consumers, has announced its intention to increase its oil supply from the Gulf and accelerate the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals. A White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said that the war in Ukraine was a reason for the U.S. oil and gas producers to “get more supply out of the ground in our own country.”

Against this background, Guterres urged the world’s coal-intensive economies to significantly reduce emissions including by swiftly ceasing their dependence on coal, which is the most polluting fossil fuel and holding private companies accountable for financing coal usage.

“Instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonization of the global economy, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal towards a renewable energy future,” Guterres noted.

The Climate Change report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel in February 2022, found that half of humanity is already at serious risk due to climate change and the risk will increase with every tenth of a degree of warming.

Citing the landmark climate assessment, Guterres warned:

“Small island nations, least developed countries, and poor and vulnerable people everywhere are one climate shock away from doomsday. In our globally connected world, no country and no corporation can insulate itself from these levels of chaos.

The UN Secretary-General also said that the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) was “on life support… in intensive care” because countries are not properly addressing the required reduction of methane emissions. With temperatures already at about 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than before industrialization, achieving the Paris target requires a 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century.

“If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye,” he said. “Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be a catastrophe. Our planet has already warmed by as much as 1.2 degrees—and we see the devastating consequences everywhere. In 2020, climate disasters forced 30 million people to flee their homes —three times more than those displaced by war and violence.”

Referring to current events, Guterres also stated that “the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine risks upending global food and energy markets — with major implications for the global climate agenda.”

Over 500 scientists from Britain and the United States signed an open letter on the same day calling on academic institutions to stop accepting funding for climate change research from the fossil fuel industry even if that research is aimed at developing green and low-carbon technology.

The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, urged governments to take immediate action to ensure that the 2030 targets can be met, such as the European Union’s target of reducing emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels.

“Long-term plans are important and they are needed,” said Patricia Espinosa. “But if global leaders, public and private, do not make progress and establish clear plans for climate action in the next two years, plans for 2050 may well be irrelevant.”

Both Espinosa and Guterres stated that cooperation between the developed and emerging economies of the G20, accountable for 80% of all global emissions, is key to addressing global warming.

“By accelerating the phase-out of coal and all fossil fuels and implementing a rapid, just and sustainable energy transition [is] the only true pathway to energy security”, concluded the UN chief.