All over the world, climate activists demand an embargo on russian fossil fuels as their sale profits in fact fund russia’s war against Ukraine. Svitlana Romanko, a climate policy expert, has initiated an ambitious campaign running for three months already. Together with thousands of other activists from all over the world, she demands not only an embargo on russian fuels but also a ban on its production growth in other countries, as well as an immediate transition to green energy. Only such a scenario can put an end to dictatorial regimes and neocolonialism in the world. Svitlana Romanko told Heinrich Boell Foundation about the connection between war and climate crisis. The interview was first published on boell.de.
Why do climate organizations demand an embargo on russian fuel?
On March 4, climate activists from all over the world for the first time urged the Bundestag to impose an embargo on russian gas and oil to stop the war and end fossil fuels that feed Putin's war machine. This appeal was initiated by Svitlana Romanko, a climate policy expert. The letter was signed by 45 Ukrainian and international organizations. Within two months, the number of signatories increased to 800 organizations.
In April, the Ukrainian climate movement appealed to the Bundestag to stop funding russia's war against Ukraine.
“From a modern perspective, russia’s economy is very weak, since 60 percent of its profits are generated from fossil fuel export, and 40 percent of these profits are spent on funding the war. Russia spends approximately 900 million euro daily on the war against Ukraine, on weaponry, and on military crimes. And this is approximately the amount that the European Union, including Germany, pays russia,” Svitlana Romanko explained.
Due to growing prices and energy insecurity, as well as escalating climate crisis, it is expected that russia may gain windfall profits — appr. 320 billion euro of total revenue by the end of this year. This, in turn, will enable further violence, terror, and genocide against the Ukrainian people.
To stop the war, we should primarily stop investments and cash flows that putin and russia receive and that are used to finance the war against Ukraine, the expert added.
Among other things, international climate organizations called the world to definance the 100 largest banks and companies that fund putin’s military regime and russia. These include some famous European banks — “Crédit Agricole,” “Sosiété Générale,” and “Lloyd’s of London.”
“Our activities also focus on large financial institutions. They keep silent and accumulate money, because, as we can see, there is a direct link between those owning resources and those using fossil fuels to gain profit. They define politics. With that money, dictatorships and terrors grow. On the other hand, big banks continue investing money in fossil fuels and quietly fund what they consider profitable. If we redirect these financial flows to the renewable energy sector, we can change this world, but this should be done immediately. We call to completely stop investing in russia’s fossil fuel sector and trade carried out by many trade companies. Currently, we see that russia attempts to circumvent these sanctions, replacing flags on its oil tankers, and activists blockade them. The struggle continues everywhere,” Svitlana said.
The letter to the Bundestag aimed to convey to the German parliament that Germany is the central and main budget revenue-generating economy of the EU, and it is the biggest consumer of russian fossil fuel.
“It is Germany with its rather moderate conservative policy that bears the biggest responsibility to be the decisive voice to impose a ban or an embargo on russian oil and gas import. Germany’s commitment to decrease gas consumption by two thirds until the end of 2022 is insufficient. Germany has all the capabilities to decrease and immediately terminate the use of gas from russia and accelerate green energy development. That is, it can substitute russian fossil resources not with other fossil fuel or liquefied gas, which it now wants to extract, but with renewable energy sources,” Romanko noted.
What (not) to do after the ban on russian fossil fuels?
Although activists demand a ban on importing russian fossil fuel, oil, gas, and coal, they, at the same time, demand that developed countries not use this moment to increase their own extraction and substitute russian fossil fuel with any other one. In particular, this is what the United States and Canada are going to do. The German chancellor, after adopting the EU’s new energy strategy, went to African countries, namely Senegal, in search of new gas and liquefied gas suppliers. Activists say that this is nothing else but returning to the dark days of colonialism.
The alternative is making a transition to clean energy.
“This energy is decentralized and it will not cause an energy crisis or a significant price increase, which lead to conflicts now,” Svitlana said. However, currently, according to reports, green energy investments lag 6 times behind from what they should be.
“Another objective is to withdraw financing from the fossil fuel sector and redirect it to green energy, a green revolution, as it will make us independent and provide energy security, and that is what will allow us to rebuild Ukraine,” the climate expert explained.
Money generated from oil, gas, and coal production should not be systemically important in the budget. We should overcome our dependence on oil, gas, and coal as soon as possible.
“Oil and gas companies, taking advantage of our plight, are planning to increase extraction to allegedly substitute russian fossil fuel. If this happens, we will cross a 3 degrees warming limit while we are supposed to keep it below 1.5 degrees. Again, all this shows that this is a crucial moment and we, being a democratic society, should prevent this. In fact, our country defines geopolitics now,” Svitlana said.
Why cannot we substitute russian fossil fuels with nuclear ones?
Neither fossil, nor nuclear fuel is ecological and renewable and should not be a long-term investee.
“Today, we should make rapid and important decisions that will change the future in the whole world, not only in Ukraine. We have a chance to prevent climate change and military conflicts and make a transition from the militarization of societies to green development, energy security, and overcoming energy poverty,” the activist said.
The biggest challenge is to persuade those receiving windfall profits and controlling strategic areas.
“Another argument against nuclear energy recovery is the threat Ukraine is facing now. Russians have shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and attacked research centers. Besides, nuclear waste storage facilities pose a threat identical to climate crisis. Climate wars, which are inevitable if we continue doing business as usual, will destroy this world, and with nuclear energy this will happen much faster,” the climate expert believes.
“The European Green Deal’s main problem is that it could be more ambitious, it could aim at more emissions reduction than now. A 55% reduction by 2030 is a low target considering the EU’s capacities. We — experts, the public, and society — say that 65% should be the minimum goal. All hidden fossil fuel subsidies should be redirected to renewable energy. On May 18, the EU adopted a new energy strategy RePowerEU, which significantly increases renewables use and energy efficiency share but still relies on substituting russian fossil fuels with the import from developing countries, namely African countries. This severely undermines the EU’s reputation as the global leader in the green transformation according to the European Green Deal, returning us to the dark days of colonialism and deepening the climate crisis,” Romanko noted.
How has the full-scale war affected the climate situation in Ukraine and worldwide?
As of April, according to the UN data, the war has already affected the livelihoods and energy and food security of about 1.5 billion people in 107 countries of the world.
By the end of March alone, Ukraine had lost its annual GDP (around 520 billion dollars) due to the war.
“Economic decline approximates 30 percent. According to the most pessimistic predictions, the decline may reach 65 percent. Meanwhile, imposing a full embargo on oil and gas by Germany will cause only a 0.3-0.5 percent decline in its annual GDP. The ban on russian fuel will lead to a 30-40 percent decline in the russian GDP. This will weaken the funding of the war against us. As we can already see, neither the warning of the UN International Tribunal nor other deterrents affect the aggressor. Economic measures still remain the most effective.”
How are wars and climate change interconnected in the modern world?
Neocolonialism continues to strengthen in the world with the countries of the Global South supplying resources to the North, in particular to the EU.
“We can see European mining companies, such as Total Energy, building massive infrastructure to transport raw oil within Africa. We can see the territories of indigenous people being assaulted in Columbia and Asia — to increase extraction. This is nothing else but neocolonialism when developed countries enslave and try to further obtain resources from developing countries and territories. Developing countries should receive costs to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change as this is the essence of climate justice. However, those currently consuming less pay the most — through their legal rights, social rights, welfare, energy consumption, and access to benefits,” Svitlana told.
Russia has a long history of tyranny and autocracy. As the climate expert emphasized, this has always been a fight to enslave other folks. The resources have always been secondary just because russia has enough of them. They do not need to search for new resources as they own the largest gas deposits easy to extract, as well as one of the biggest deposits of raw oil in the world.
“It just so happened that they have uncontrolled access to fossil fuels and were thus able to build up global political power, which they do not use to make the world better or more democratic. Nothing can justify violence and terror. But there are also other countries watching russia’s behavior. These are Saudi Arabia and China — countries with huge resources and huge fossil fuel deposits. The way countries react now to russia’s aggression will determine our future. Will it be dictatorial on a global scale? Will it open access to total oppression of folks and nations?” the climate expert continued.
Replacing fossil fuels with fossil fuels from new mines is a path to new dictatorships.
“The planet may come to an end very quickly. We should have registered this 1.5 degrees warming long ago. The greatest challenge is that everyone should be engaged but parties have different capacities and different degrees of interest. If governments and companies are allowed to do whatever they want, they will do it and will feel quite happy and unpunished. They will instigate two- or threefold production expansion, and, simultaneously, antidemocracy will grow. Dictatorships fall when there is enough pressure,” Romanko emphasized.
Should Ukraine adapt to climate change consequences?
Yes, as well as plan its post-war recovery. It should be a complex process.
“We should already plan for a green recovery and seek funding for it. It is important to plan it in a complex way rather than by sectors, realizing the overall picture and considering both the climate crisis and energy security. We should not return to the past, increasing capacities of fossil fuels extraction or import. What we need is a green revolution. It is a complex goal but Ukraine is well adapted to revolutions and I am sure we can make a green revolution that will rebuild our economy because it is one of the most energy-intensive in Europe,” Svitlana Romanko explained.
Another significant problem is the growth of emissions on Ukraine’s territory. The reasons include rockets because their fuel burns in enormous volumes. Besides that, the volumes of military waste, which is difficult and sometimes impossible to recycle or reuse, have risen. A detailed adaptation and recovery plan for Ukraine is needed, a plan that does not assume using fossil fuels.
What can international organizations and activists do to help Ukraine and the planet?
1. Advocate an embargo and a ban on extraction growth in their own countries: abandon the use of russian oil, coal, and gas, as well as cease financing and investing in any fossil fuel infrastructure. In particular, resist extraction growth to substitute russian fossil fuels by other fossil fuels as this will exacerbate the climate crisis even more.
2. Stop any economic, trade, investment, and extraction relations with russia, namely in the fossil fuel sector.
3. Demand immediate transition to clean energy sources — to the energy that will not kill, fund dictatorships, criminal regimes, and bloodshed not only in our, but also in other countries.
4. Remember about the climate crisis. Uncontrolled fossil fuel combustion and unwillingness to limit our own consumption and economic development have led us to the point where we are now and made this war possible.
5. Always remind that the war must be stopped immediately and this is the key priority. As Svitlana said, “We want to win this war, but we also want to overcome the climate crisis, because the climate crisis, energy security, and war in Ukraine have common roots. We must eradicate the roots of the problem — to fight with fossil fuel, with dependence on it on different levels.”
6. Support each other, be connected and solidary with Ukraine.
“This struggle is exhausting, long, and complicated, it requires plenty of resources, so we must understand and support each other. We should treat each other with care and understanding. As a representative of the Ukrainian climate movement, I am grateful to those who support us, who share global solidarity, volunteer, work overtime, deliver our demands, and who help in every way they can,” Svitlana Romanko summarized.