For Svitlana Krakovska, recent events have clarified the human, economic, and geopolitical catastrophe of fossil fuels.
For Svitlana Krakovska, Ukraine’s leading climate scientist, it was meant to be the week where eight years of work culminated in a landmark U.N. report exposing the havoc the climate crisis is causing the world.
But then the bombs started to crunch into Kyiv.
Krakovska, the head of a delegation of 11 Ukrainian scientists, struggled to help finalize the vast Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report ahead of its release on Feb. 28 even as Russian forces launched their invasion. “I told colleagues that as long as we have the internet and no bombs over our heads we will continue,” she said.
But her team, scattered across the country, started to peel away — one had to rush to an air raid shelter in Kharkiv, others decided to flee completely, internet connections spluttered, one close friend of a delegate was killed in the fighting. International colleagues had to express their sympathies and press on with the report.
Krakovska’s four children sheltered with her in their Kyiv home as a missile struck a nearby building, emitting an ear-splitting roar. A fire from a separate strike sent up a plume of smoke that blotted the sky. “This blitzkrieg by [Vladimir] Putin is unbelievable, it is terrorism against the Ukrainian people,” she said.
Both the invasion and IPCC report crystallized for Krakovska the human, economic, and geopolitical catastrophe of fossil fuels. About half of the world’s population is now acutely vulnerable to disasters stemming from the burning of fossil fuels, the IPCC report found, while Russia’s military might is underpinned by wealth garnered from the country’s vast oil and gas reserves.
“I started to think about the parallels between climate change and this war and it’s clear that the roots of both these threats to humanity are found in fossil fuels,” said Krakovska.
“Burning oil, gas and coal is causing warming and impacts we need to adapt to. And Russia sells these resources and uses the money to buy weapons. Other countries are dependent upon these fossil fuels, they don’t make themselves free of them. This is a fossil fuel war. It’s clear we cannot continue to live this way, it will destroy our civilization.”
The IPCC report, described by António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, as an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” is the most comprehensive catalog yet of the consequences of global heating. Extreme heat and the spread of disease is killing people around the world, about 12 million people are being displaced by floods and droughts each year and the viability of food-producing land is shrinking.
But it is the conflict in Ukraine that has caused Western governments to hastily attempt to untangle themselves from a reliance upon Russian oil and gas. The European Union, which gets about 40 percent of its gas supply from Russia, is working on a plan to rapidly upscale renewable energy, bolster energy efficiency measures, and build liquified natural gas terminals to receive gas from other countries.
“I told colleagues that as long as we have the internet and no bombs over our heads we will continue,” Krakovska said.
Joe Biden, meanwhile, has relented to pressure from U.S. lawmakers to ban imports of Russian oil. The ban, the U.S. president said last week, will deliver a “powerful blow to Putin’s war machine. We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war.” Biden said the U.S. will work with Europe on a long-term plan to phase out Russian oil and gas.
The halting of imports was urged in an emotional appeal to members of Congress by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, and is backed by a bipartisan majority of lawmakers. “It’s basically foolish for us to keep buying products and giving money to Putin to be able to use against the Ukrainian people,” said Joe Manchin, the centrist Democratic senator.