“The Russian war brought an acute food crisis to the world, which hit worst those countries suffering from the existing manifestations of climate change – catastrophic droughts, large-scale floods.”
Volodymyr Zelenskyy on November 8, 2022
There is likely to be no person in the world today who would deny not knowing what it feels like to experience an extreme weather event. In whichever part of the globe one resides, there is a painful pinch from Mother Nature. If it is not the cold; it is the heat – or the floods, or the hurricanes and typhoons, as the case may be. Indeed, climate change is not a stranger to any time zone.
That is also the same way the world is fighting climate change – from every corner of planet Earth. It began in 1992 when the United Nations organised the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wherein the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted. In this treaty, nations agreed to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system.” So far, 197 different parties have signed it. Since 1994, when the treaty entered into force, every year, the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits or “COPs”, which stands for “Conference of the Parties.”
During these meetings, nations have negotiated various extensions of the original treaty to establish legally binding limits on emissions. For example, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015, in which all countries of the world agreed to step up efforts to try and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, and boost climate action financing.
This year marks the 27th annual summit, or COP27, and it is taking place in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, from November 6 to 18. Observers and organisers of COP27 have branded the conference as an “African COP” where the positions of African countries on issues like finance for adapting to climate change or moving to renewable energy sources will be central to the talks. The dream is already coming true, for instance, with the launching of the African Carbon Markets Initiative, just two days into the COP.
However, there is something else that Africa, and indeed the world, should be giving more attention to: The environmental fallout of the ongoing war in Ukraine. From all indications, it has worsened the climate crisis while erasing most of the gains from previous COPs.
From February 24, 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine and the world stood helplessly and watched, it has been a bloody trail of bad news for the environmental sector. The invasion has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths of people on both sides, and caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. It triggered global food shortages, and 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. Military emissions of Carbon dioxide (one of the gases that cause climate change) has reached hundreds of million tonnes and undermined the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Eastern Ukraine is a highly industrialised area with more than 900 facilities and production centres, including coal mines, oil refineries, chemical labs, steel plants among others. Direct hits and explosions result in leakages of hazardous materials that poison air, water, and soils. According to a report by Joe McCarthy of the Global Citizen, entitled, “How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is harming water, air, soil, and wildlife,” as of April 1, 2022, more than 36 attacks were registered on fossil fuel infrastructures, 29 attacks on electricity stations, seven on water infrastructures, and six on nuclear sites. The number of attacks on industrial centres made international observers and the Ukrainian government to identify them as ecocide. For instance, on March 21, ammonia reservoirs at Sumykhimprom were hit. The resultant leakage covered an area 2.5km in radius, and the people of Novoselitsa village were told to hide in shelters.
- COP27: Nigerians to benefit from UK £95m support
- COP27: Nigeria eyes $400bn for energy transition plan
- Why COP 27 must focus on $100bn climate finance
Indubitably, there are other far-reaching areas that the war has impacted. Global food security is threatened as Ukrainian grain supply is cut off. European countries are running helter-skelter, looking for alternative energy sources for their citizens, as the winter season approaches. The fight against climate change has almost ground to a halt as world powers revert to dirty fuel sources. In fact, last week, Zimbabwe began coal supply to China. According to preliminary data, it will take Ukraine’s nature at least 15 years to rebuild; but certainly it will take the world half a century to recover from the ecological backlash of the Russian invasion.
For those that follow climate negotiations, there is a feeling of disappointment because of what the rich nations are doing to adapt to the impacts of the Ukrainian war. These COP signatories, who had pledged to shut down their fossil fuel plants as commitment to the climate treaty, are reopening them. Climate change is a secondary consideration; survival is the first.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said it all in his speech to the world at the Egypt COP. He asked, “Who will care, for example, about the amount of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere if part of Europe or the Middle East, and possibly Northern Africa, God forbid, are covered by a radiation cloud after an accident in Zaporizhzhia (nuclear plant)?” His conclusion was that there can be no effective climate policy without peace on the Earth because nations are thinking only about how to protect themselves here and now from the threats created as a result of the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy then made a proposal to COP27: Create a global platform to assess the impact of military actions on climate and environment.
Here, I wish to remind everyone that such a platform already exists. What remains is the political will to enlarge its scope and also empower it with enough teeth to be able to enforce global compliance. On November 5, 2001, the United Nations General Assembly declared November 6 of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.
Fundamentally, the UN recognises that though humanity has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicised victim of war. Water wells have been polluted, crops burnt, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed to gain military advantage. The United Nations Environment Programme has found that over the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water.
Zelenskyy claims that the Russian war has destroyed 5 million acres of forests in Ukraine in less than six months. The question is, does the UN have the force to stop further environmental damage by sanctioning Russia?
At the COPs, the world is discussing how to generate hundreds of billions of dollars to help developing countries fight climate change. But out there, some people are planning how to inflict maximum damage on the ecosystem through their wars. The paradox is shocking. Yet, truth is, a house cannot survive when some are pulling it down while others are building. Planet Earth is home to us all, and we are all united under one global roof. Climate change is not a respecter of geography; the impact is shared by all countries. Therefore, some people cannot be destroying the climate, while others are fighting to preserve it. There must be punishment for polluters and carbon-emitters, especially those that pollute through wars and conflicts. ,
I told aggrieved govs my worries – Bala Mohammed
Buhari prays successful tenure for Nigerian-Americans elected in US
Why Nigeria can’t implement AU free movement – FG
Oluwo warns monarchs against idol worship, Elebuibon disagrees
King Charles escapes being hit with eggs
One-way: Soldiers beat policeman, LASTMA official in Lagos
Many injured as gunmen attack commuters on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway
Hushpuppi jailed 11 years despite wife, Imams’ pleas