How the Russia-Ukraine conflict put climate action and clean energy on the back burner

Special UN SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres warned: ‘Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use.’ (Getty)
UN SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres warned: ‘Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use.’ (Getty)
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Updated 05 May 2022

How the Russia-Ukraine conflict put climate action and clean energy on the back burner

How the Russia-Ukraine conflict put climate action and clean energy on the back burner
  • Environmental issues take a back seat as the war occupies center stage
  • Efforts to cut Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas boost demand for coal

NEW YORK CITY: At a recent UN Security Council meeting convened in New York City to discuss the war in Ukraine, delegates noticed something different. On the conference table in front of them, ambassadors had been given plastic water bottles to slake their thirst.

This would not have been noteworthy but for the fact that the UN had decided in 2019 to go plastic-free. A banner erected at the entrance of UN headquarters at the time made the policy quite clear: “No single-use plastic.”

The return of plastics to the Security Council chamber incensed climate-conscious diplomats and visitors, as it appeared to signal the environment had become an afterthought while the war in Ukraine took center stage.

All the bold talk about tackling the climate crisis in recent years seemed to evaporate the moment the war began, leaving behind the distinct impression that the environmental agenda was some kind of luxury issue to be discussed only in peacetime.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, an Ecuadorian diplomat and former president of the General Assembly, was the driving force behind the elimination of single-use plastics at UN headquarters.




Demand for coal in countries such as India, pictured, has soared amid supply chain shortages and the war in Ukraine. (AFP)

Asked about the apparent backsliding on the issue, Espinosa Garces said that times of crisis were no excuse for abandoning environmental priorities.

“The climate crisis is an existential threat to our human security, and we have a responsibility to make peace with our planet if we want to survive as a species,” she told Arab News. “Climate action should not be left on the back burner, even in times of war.”

She added: “Climate change is killing and displacing millions. It has more global and devastating effects than any war. We have to work on both at the same time.”

Backsliding on established practices is not reserved for the UN’s plastics policy. The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the environment by driving up the extraction and use of fossil fuels.

The soaring price of oil and gas has led the US, Europe and other governments to boost production — at the very moment the world ought to be weaning itself off fossil fuels in favor of clean, renewable sources of energy.

Some critics, particularly those in the US, see the effort to boost supply as a major setback, or even a “betrayal,” of the environmental agenda, dooming the world’s climate goals on reducing carbon emissions to failure.




Once defended by then chancellor Angela Merkel as a purely economic project that will bring cheaper gas to Europe, the controversial €10 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline was finally been canned by Germany over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

With his poll ratings down ahead of November’s midterm elections, US President Joe Biden is under pressure at home to bring down the price of gasoline.

Early on in the Ukraine crisis, he released a record amount of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and urged oil and gas companies to accelerate drilling operations. Breaking an earlier campaign promise, he also announced he would open more public land to drilling.

In fact, although the US has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, climate change received only scant mention in the State of the Union address of March 1.

This is despite the findings of the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose lead author, Heleen De Coninck, said the world had “reached the now or never point of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels. 

Responding to the IPCC’s latest report, published on April 4, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, flayed wealthy economies and corporations, saying they “are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames.




In March, the US released record amounts of oil from reserve in an effort to halt surging fuel prices. (AFP)

“They are choking our planet based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuel,” Guterres added.

On Earth Day, marked each year on April 22, activists held nationwide protests, demanding the US government take concerted action on climate change, including the passage of a new climate bill, which involves some half a trillion dollars-worth of clean energy investments.

Activists want the Senate to pass the stalled bill as soon as possible as they fear it will never get through Congress if the Democrats lose control of the house in November’s midterms.

Biden’s hands appear to be tied, however, as Republicans in Congress, along with one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin from coal-rich West Virginia, continue to water down and even block the president’s proposals on climate action.

Instead, the priority has become helping Europe to free itself from its dependency on Russian oil and gas, increasing domestic production and releasing reserves to bring down prices for US citizens.

The EU imported about 40 percent of its natural gas, more than one-quarter of its oil and about half of its coal from Russia in 2019.




The US has banned Russian oil imports in response to the continuing invasion of Ukraine. (AFP/File Photo)

In a joint statement with the European Commission on March 24, Biden appeared to have two conflicting goals in mind: To help Europe wean itself off Russian energy, while at the same time keeping a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap on warming “within reach.”

There are also members of Congress who want to “supercharge domestic energy production of all kinds” to provide Europe with energy and “even finance infrastructure for them.” Reconciling these efforts with the world’s climate goals will likely prove to be a bridge too far.

Yet some believe that if Europe succeeds in ending its reliance on Russian energy, it could be a blessing in disguise, offering a golden opportunity for Europe to become fossil fuel-free in the long run.

One school of opinion holds that the war is an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies. If this proves to be the case, then the war may actually help the continent achieve its climate goals.

Predictably, environmentalists were heartened on Feb. 22 when Germany scrapped its approval for a newly built gas pipeline from Russia. Berlin now plans to import liquefied natural gas from Qatar and the US.

Meanwhile, Belgium is reconsidering its aversion to nuclear power, and Italy, the Netherlands and the UK are all accelerating efforts to install more wind power.




US President Joe Biden’s environmental balancing act will be put to the test during November’s midterm elections. (AFP)

However, efforts to reduce dependence on oil and gas has also created fresh demand for coal — a cheap, easy, though much dirtier alternative — in places that had been in the process of phasing it out.

On March 21, in his first major speech on climate and energy since the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, Guterres said the rush to use fossil fuels because of the war in Ukraine is “madness” and threatens global climate targets.

Coal must be banished with a full phase-out for richer nations by 2030, and 2040 for all others, including China, he said.

Paradoxically, although the war in Ukraine might speed up Europe’s move away from fossil fuels in the long term, it could slow the clean energy transition — and thereby boost greenhouse gas emissions — elsewhere in the world if coal makes a comeback.

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” said Guterres. “This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.”

Countries must “accelerate the phase out of coal and all fossil fuels,” and implement a rapid and sustainable energy transition.

It is “the only true pathway to energy security,” he said.


Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb
Updated 12 sec ago

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

MADRID: A security guard at Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid was lightly injured Wednesday while opening a letter bomb addressed to the Ukrainian ambassador, prompting Kyiv to boost security at its embassies.

The letter, which arrived by regular post, exploded in the early afternoon as the guard opened it in the embassy garden, said the central government’s representative in Madrid, Mercedes Gonzalez.

The guard was discharged from hospital later Wednesday and returned to work, Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev, said.

In an interview with Spanish state television, Pohoreltsev appeared to blame Russia: “We are well aware of the terrorist methods of the aggressor country,” he said.

“Russia’s methods and attacks require us to be ready for any kind of incident, provocation or attack,” he added.

Spain’s National Police force were informed of an explosion at the embassy at around 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), a police source said.

The source said the guard was “lightly” injured and “went himself to a hospital” for treatment.

Police have opened an investigation “which includes the participation of forensic police,” the source said, without giving further details.

Police put a security cordon around the embassy, which is in a leafy residential area in northern Madrid.

A man who lives in front of the embassy, who asked not to be identified, told AFP he had heard the explosion.

“I thought it was gunshot. It was not too loud,” he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered the strengthening of security at all Ukrainian embassies, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on social media after the letter bomb went off.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares spoke with the ambassador over the phone “to ask about the well-being of the Ukrainian worker who was injured,” the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Albares also contacted Kuleba by phone to express his “support and solidarity,” it added.

Later in the evening, a second “suspicious postal shipment” was intercepted at the headquarters of military equipment firm Instalaza in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the interior ministry said.

Experts carried out a “controlled explosion” of the mailed item.

“Investigators are analizing the exploded device and checking if there are any links between this event and what happened this morning at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid,” it added.


Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings
Updated 30 November 2022

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings
  • Prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: ‘Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic’

BRUSSELS: Belgium launched its biggest-ever criminal trial on Wednesday, the landmark prosecution of alleged jihadists accused of directing or aiding 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels’ metro and airport that killed 32 people.

The prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: “Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic.”

Salah is already notorious after being convicted in a separate trial in France for his role in 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Only one of the nine defendants present, 30-year-old Osama Krayem, refused to stand as they were presented to the high-security court in the disused former headquarters of the NATO alliance.

A 10th suspect, 33-year-old Oussama Atar, is believed to have been killed in Syria.

Wednesday’s hearing kicked off jury selection from a huge poll of more than 1,000 citizens.

The court was to choose 12 jurors and 24 potential replacements who will need to attend near-daily sessions of a months-long process leading into next year.

On Dec. 5, the main evidential hearings will begin.

Both the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks and the March 22, 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels were claimed by the Daesh group, and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium- based cell, including Abdeslam.

The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France, but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. 

Four days later, on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city center metro station near the headquarters of the European Union.

Alongside those killed, hundreds of travelers and transport staff were maimed and six years on many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatized.

Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock in Belgium have already been convicted in the French trial, including Abdeslam. He is serving life without parole in France and faces a further sentence in Belgium.

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify in the months to come, some still hope that telling the story of Belgium’s worst peace- time massacre will offer them a measure of closure.


India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
Updated 30 November 2022

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
  • Reduces forex risks, US dollar reliance, says envoy
  • “Landmark model” for other nations if successful

NEW DELHI: The UAE and India are preparing to introduce bilateral transactions using local currencies, New Delhi’s envoy to Abu Dhabi said on Wednesday, with the move expected to boost the free trade deal between the two countries.

The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner after the US and China, with a bilateral trade volume of $43.3 billion in 2020-21. It is also home to more than 3 million Indian expats, who send billions of dollars in remittances to their families each year.

In February, India and the UAE signed the landmark Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The pact, which went into force in May, reduces tariffs on almost 80 percent of all goods and provides zero-duty access to 90 percent of Indian exports.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Sunjay Sudhir, told Arab News that the issue of trade settlements in local currencies was discussed during the 14th India-UAE Joint Commission meeting in Abu Dhabi in September.

Last week, it was also one of the major points of discussion when UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited New Delhi.

“Since then there has been progress, a concept paper has been submitted by the Indian side to the UAE side, discussions are ongoing between the Reserve Bank of India and the UAE Central Bank,” Sudhir told Arab News, adding that modalities would be finalized “as soon as possible.”

Trading in local currencies — in the Indian-UAE context the rupee and dirham — not only reduces transaction costs but also frees trade from dependence on the US dollar.

“Trade between India and the UAE is mostly invoiced in dollars, which can be an expensive affair for businesses on both sides, due to foreign currency conversion fees and exchange rate risk,” Anupam Manur, economics professor from the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, told Arab News.

He said for India it would also ease the pressure on the current account, halt the depreciation of the rupee and the depletion of forex reserves.

“This opens up the possibility of using a common payments system, such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface) to reduce the cost of remittances from Indians in (the) UAE and truly make capital flows easier,” Manur added.

“If the deal to trade in local currencies is successful then this would be a landmark deal and the model can be replicated with many other countries with which India has a strong trading relationship.”


Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
Updated 30 November 2022

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
  • The project will develop training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, and prevent discrimination and extremism

NEW YORK: The Muslim World League, in partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, on Wednesday launched the International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence.

Its founders said it aims to be a center of excellence for research, leadership and training to help combat all forms of hate and radicalization based on religion, race or ethnicity.

The Muslim World League has provided a grant to support the work of the lab, which will include the development of innovative, evidence-based training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, along with the advancement of groundbreaking research to help foster and enhance coexistence and collaboration.

The officials who attended the signing ceremony for the project on Wednesday included Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammad Al-Issa, Teachers College President Thomas Bailey, Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Park East Synagogue Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and members of the US Congress.

“The Muslim World League is dedicated to fighting hate speech and intolerance in all its forms,” said Al-Issa.

“We are honored to support the new International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence because it will expand that battle and, through training and research, will help eliminate discrimination and extremism before it can take root in young children.”

 


Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
Updated 30 November 2022

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
  • 61% of Muslims live in the lowest 40% of areas ranked by deprivation
  • Campaigners call on policymakers to end ‘cycles of poverty’

LONDON: The majority of Muslims are living in the areas of England and Wales with the worst levels of deprivation, the UK Office for National Statistics revealed on Wednesday.

Muslims now account for 6.5 percent of the population in England and Wales, some 3.9 million in 2021, according to the latest ONS census. 

However, the data showed 61 percent of them live in the lowest 40 percent of areas ranked by deprivation score, The Guardian reported.

Tower Hamlets, considered one of the most deprived areas, had the highest percentage of Muslims in England and Wales in 2011. The census in 2021 shows that they now account for 39.9 percent of the local population. 

Meanwhile, only 4 percent of Muslims live in the 20 percent of areas least deprived.

Policymakers have been urged to address the “cycles of poverty” that have affected generations of British Muslims, the numbers of which have increased by 1.2 million in the last decade.

Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Zara Mohammed told The Guardian: “We’re now the second or third generation (of Muslims).

“There’s more of us here, and yet we’re still in these cycles of poverty and deprivation.

“I think part of that is down to socioeconomic conditions where people are housed, and the economic opportunities available.

“There’s something to really be said about what our politics and policies are doing to help those who are really suffering.

“There’s all these stereotypes and tropes around Muslims, but the reality is that people are actually in cycles of poverty. And these need to be broken.”

Sufia Alam, head of the Maryam Centre and programmes at East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, told The Guardian: “I have worked for almost three decades in this borough and it’s one of the poorest in London and indeed in the country.

“Even though it’s a rich borough as well as a poor borough: We’ve got Canary Wharf on our doorstep.

“The (census data) are not surprising because of so many factors that we’ve often talked about: Islamophobia, cultural biases that exist, racism within institutions from education all the way to employment.

“I remember talking about the same thing in the 2011 census. Nothing’s really changed.”