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March newsletter editorial: The Ukraine tragedy and the heavy price of war

Photo: ev, Unsplash

The horror playing out in Ukraine disturbs and distresses the Carbon Market Watch team. We have discussed it amongst ourselves. We have expressed our solidarity with those who are affected. We share their anger at the Russian regime’s unwarranted aggression, senseless bloodshed and escalating destruction. We have joined Ukrainian activists in asking for the international community to reject Russian fossil fuels. We also regret all the human energy being diverted from the constructive pursuit of solving the world’s pressing problems, such as the climate crisis.

The war has also resonated close to home for us. We have had news from Ecoaction, our Ukrainian partner in the LIFE ETX project. We are heartened by their resilience, but saddened that they have to turn their attention away from the future of the climate to their survival in the here and now. The tender shoots of climate policy in Ukraine are becoming a casualty of war. The climate plan which the Ukrainian government released last August faces an uncertain future. Government spending is bound to be reallocated to the war effort and the private investment needed for Ukraine’s energy transition is almost certain to fall in the crossfire.

What can we do with such negative emotions? We can channel them into the resolve to keep our hearts tender, our minds focused on what we can still do to bring positive change even from the edge of the abyss. Positive thinking does not become a sin in times of war.

Inopportune times?

Just three days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I was invited by a European Energy and Climate minister to debate the questions “What’s needed for a swift completion of the negotiations on the ‘Fit for 55’ package?” and “What can be done to speed up the process?” This was a debate about the integrity of the many legislative files in the package or the (non)sense of pushing for agreement on selected ones before others. It was also about building progressive alliances amongst EU member states in the face of the attacks on the ambition of the Fit for 55 package in light of the energy price crisis.

My advice on behalf of CMW was to avoid agreeing on the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism before an agreement on the revision of the European Emissions Trading System because we must first abolish free pollution permits. The EU must also prioritise ambitious outcomes over the speed of coming to agreements, so it might be wise to let some of the energy price crunch blow over first. Three days later, of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine made it clear that the energy price crunch is far from blowing itself out.

The voices of reason have already argued that the energy price crunch must be taken as an incentive to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. The hope from the abyss of the Ukraine invasion now is that the exit from fossil fuels and the transition to renewables will be accelerated, not just because it is better for the climate and more sustainable but because of its geostrategic importance. While some EU governments are looking in the short term to compensate with coal-fired power plants or to import liquified fossil gas from other parts of the world, there have also been many heartening ministerial affirmations that the Ukraine crisis will accelerate European climate policy.

Greenwashing in the spotlight

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief the sheer extent of our collective fossil fuel addiction. But the signs were there long before. Take the failure of the corporate world  to decarbonise. The Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, which we published together with NewClimate Institute last month, exposed the lengths to which the world’s top corporations will go to clean up their image rather than clean up their act. 

Only four out of the 25 companies assessed received an overall rating of “reasonable or moderate integrity”, while 12 companies received an overall “low integrity” rating. The companies’ net-zero pledges in reality amount to future emission reductions, often decades from now, of an average of just 40%, not 100% as suggested by the term ‘net-zero’. Companies’ 2030 targets also fall short of the ambition required to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Despite this lacklustre performance, the overwhelming media and public attention the report received gives us some hope that change is afoot.

ETX website launch

This week our LIFE Emissions Trading Extra (ETX) project gets its own online home and with that a better tool to fulfil its mission. The project seeks to enhance climate governance around the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS). It also promotes broader and more robust civil society participation in policymaking and monitoring, as well as greater international collaboration (notably with Ukraine), to ensure that the ETS benefits the climate and people. ETX also carries out scientific assessments and conducts capacity-building that help empower civil society to engage in this extremely technical yet vital policy area.

Message in a bottle

Amongst the little bits of post still being forwarded from our old to our new office was a big envelope from Australia. It did not name a sender and its contents were a curious mix of images of historical and contemporary indigenous leaders with their testimonies and exhortations regarding the human destruction of the Earth. I could have discarded it as irrelevant to the speciality concerns of Carbon Market Watch, yet something touched me in the accompanying two-page tract of, presumably, the sender. They didn’t speak the language of policy and didn’t explain what they specifically ask of us, but the wisdom they offer applies to the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis alike: “Heartlessness as a matter of policy… is heartlessness that makes the nightmare endure … Everything now depends on a resurgence of the good qualities of the human spirit.”

Let us tackle our challenges with empathy, solidarity, commitment to truth and reason. Thank you for your interest in Carbon Market Watch’s work and good luck with yours.



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