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Conflict in Ukraine: Getting the European energy response right

01.05.2022

In face of the huge political, economic, social, and humanitarian shock of the war in Ukraine, the European Climate Foundation takes its responsibility as an organisation fighting for the planet, people and future to respond with determination and humanity.

Europe has responded to the war with unprecedented solidarity at the political and societal level, a solidarity that must be maintained to prevent the risks of prolonged conflict, harsh economic conditions, and unsustainable outcomes to grow any further.

The climate and energy community needs to address the immediate crisis questions that arise and will have an impact over the next years. There is a clear and urgent imperative to end Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal. Accelerated deployment of clean energy solutions can help in the near term and have a transformational impact over the next two-three years – but this will require urgent action starting now.

The ECF’s response to the Ukrainian crisis encompasses four main aspects:

1 - A frontline emergency response

The ECF found it critical to provide urgent help to those most affected where we could make a difference. The Foundation has been supporting its Ukrainian partners, as well as partners in neighbouring countries, to help them live through the current crisis and absorb major shocks.

The Foundation has deployed resources to deliver humanitarian and practical support to affected partners and colleagues in Ukraine, helping them find temporary livelihoods until they can return to their homes. We also support partners in Eastern Europe’s neighbouring countries that have to absorb a significant influx of refugees and economic shocks for an unknown but possibly long period of time.

2 - Accelerating the transition to support Europe’s energy security

The transition to clean energy was always essential and inevitable to avert dangerous climate change – it is now also central to delivering peace and security goals. Based on the situation analysis, the Foundation has identified priority policy areas such as energy systems and land use, where specific efforts are needed to get Europe’s response to the crisis right.

The war in Ukraine has redrawn the political and energy landscape in Europe and globally and has brutally exposed Europe’s entanglement with Russian energy supplies – oil, gas, coal, but also nuclear fuel. It also has severe implications on agriculture production and food prices.

The ECF focus will be to ensure that Europe engages in accelerating the green transition to cut its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, despite attempts from vested interests to slow it down, while avoiding false solutions that could further exacerbate the current economic, social and climate crisis.

Energy Transition

Russia is Europe’s biggest supplier of oil, gas, coal and uranium: over 50% of Russian energy exports go to the EU.

Cutting Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels is now a strategic and moral imperative. Europe has a choice between doubling down on fossil fuels from other sources – locking independence on imported liquefied natural gas and slowing or ending its progress on coal phase-out – or massively accelerating the clean energy transition.

The priority for the climate community must be to ensure that the second path is taken – with a major scale-up in the deployment of energy efficiency, heat pumps, renewable energy like wind and solar, and electric vehicles.

Analysis shows that the scale-up of clean energy solutions can end Europe’s reliance on fossil gas by 2025 while avoiding a delay in the phase-out of coal, and suggesting action to reduce gas use in industry sectors.

ECF partners will be working to unlock the barriers to an ambitious clean energy scale-up at the EU, national and international levels.

Land Use

There is massive pressure to increase bioenergy as a replacement for Russian energy. This alternative, however, is not the solution: bioenergy is too small in scale to make a difference to the energy balance, it does not deliver GHG reductions, it is environmentally destructive, and—most importantly— it risks a catastrophic rise in global food prices due to competition with land.

Ukraine and Russia export 30% of global wheat and this is already feeding into massive food price rises that risk being sustained. There will be a growing tension between food security, sustainability, and energy production, including biomass.

In a context where commodities and food prices will rise, discussions around trade-offs between short term productivity and longer-term sustainability in agriculture will be intense. We see pressure from vested interests to use the Ukraine crisis to postpone or cancel vital EU priorities such as the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Nature Restoration Law.

The ECF work will aim to adjust to new transitions needed while avoiding backsliding and campaigns against false solutions. ECF partners are working to push back against opportunistic efforts to undermine the EU’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies while showing how justified fears of food security are best served by an agriculture model that is increasingly regenerative and local rather than reliant on massive amounts of fertiliser and energy inputs and vulnerable to global supply shocks.

3 - Mobilising citizens’ voices

Citizen mobilisation – both as consumers and participating in a healthy civil society – is going to be an important part of the ECF’s response to the war, critical to keeping political space open for bold action and for the maintenance of climate ambition through growing energy and social crisis, and broader threats to security and democracy.

Citizen mobilization will be key to supporting EU institutions in securing the European Green Deal, pressuring governments to move away from fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to renewables rather than watering it down, and promoting international solidarity.

4 - Preparing for the future of Ukraine

In a context where so much is unknown, both the ECF and its network need the capacity to respond to whatever the coming months and years hold. The ECF will invest in research and analysis to identify emerging needs, construct scenarios, and respond to further evolutions in the crisis.

In addition to the ongoing practical support, the ECF has started preparing for a sustainable post-war reconstruction of the country with the aim to preserve the capacities of partners and experts connected to the climate field. It is impossible to predict what the future will bring, but what is certain is that there is a need to be prepared to act swiftly when the moment comes.

The Foundation has, therefore, started to facilitate a network of Ukrainian professionals who are keen to begin planning such a reconstruction and provides support to the planning efforts. We are also in a dialogue with leading think tanks and civil society outside Ukraine to support this effort with the knowledge and experience gathered in EU countries. An essential part of this work will be mobilizing the green private sector to take an active role in the reconstruction process.