How conflicts between countries affect the health of the planet
Conflicts between countries can have devastating long-lasting negative impacts on the environment as they can require and consume large quantities of fuel, leading to high CO2emissions that contribute to climate change. Conflicts are often viewed as sustainable development in reverse and may set countries back years because of the development that would have taken place were it not for the existence of a conflict.
Conflicts can cause high levels of air and soil pollution due to the use of toxic explosive weapons as well as contaminate groundwater, causing acute and chronic health risks to people living near the polluted areas. Vehicle movements can lead to physical damage to sensitive landscapes. Deliberate attacks on oil and industrial factices are used as a weapon of war, to pollute large areas and spread terror.
Also, the destruction of agricultural infrastructure like canals and pumps and the burning of crops can threaten food security and livelihoods, increasing the vulnerability of rural communities and can affect the weather and global climate. Deforestation often increases during conflicts due to overharvesting by communities who are suddenly reliant on wood and charcoal for fuel and heating. Also, human displacement is common to many conflicts where camps for refugees can have large environmental footprints. Waste management is also another common example of a system which can break down during conflicts due to increased rates of waste dumping, burning and improper management.
The effect of the Ukraine crisis on energy policy and practices
Unlike other countries, the UK is not dependent on Russian gas supply. Our single largest source of gas is from the UK Continental Shelf and the vast majority of imports come from Norway. There are no gas pipelines directly linking the UK with Russia and imports from Russia made up less than 4% of total UK gas supply in 2021. Despite this, we are still seeing an effect on our energy prices which are already high as a result of the inflation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. This is because Russia supplies a vast amount of gas around the world. Therefore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused a strain on the global energy market which in turn leads to soaring energy prices in the UK. Due to the ongoing conflict, the UK government has put sanctions on Russia including some of their energy giants such as Gazprom. This will stop them from being able to issue debt or equity in the UK. It has been said that if the UK has better storage capacity for gas, then we would not need to be so reliant on imports from other countries and we would have our own gas to rely on and will not be as affected by any price shocks when the global market changes.
The UK will not be heavily affected by the conflict compared to the EU as there is no current plan for powering Europe that does not involve buying oil and gas from Russia as Europe is heavily dependent on these imports. However, this is good news for the UK as it barley imports any gas from Russia. The bad news is that the UK gas sources could become expensive if markets in Europe soar as the UK’s market is closely connected to markets in Europe, so a price rise in Germany could lead to higher prices in Britain.
Europe has however published a 10-point plan to help reduce its reliance on Russian gas. The plan published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) consists of replacing Russian supplies with gas from alternative sources, increasing capacity in its gas storage and accelerating the deployment of new wind and solar projects. This plan has the potential to make the whole of Europe become less dependent on Russia for its energy and introduce efforts to make the energy sector much more sustainable.
The price of carbon permits in Europe has crashed dramatically following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, lowering the cost of emitting carbon for the EU’s most polluting companies. Carbon prices are the EU’s flagship financial mechanism for curbing emissions, with companies forced to buy the permits when they pollute. These permit prices are a part of the EU’s emissions trading scheme and were launched in 2005, and reached a high of €97 (£80) in early February, but have now slumped below €70. The carbon price is an important EU policy aimed at curbing emissions across Europe’s entire energy and industrial sector. In theory, the more companies pay, the more effort they will put into cutting emissions. As result of this crisis, Europe’s carbon pricing policy is taking a huge step back at reducing emissions. They will need to come up with a solution fast to make sure this does not affect the EU’s plan for meeting its climate targets. Luckily, as a result of Brexit, this will not impact the UK and its efforts for meeting their emission reduction targets.
The effect of the crisis on the climate progress indicators proposed in Post 49
UK Renewable Electricity Generation
UK renewable energy generation will not be impacted by the conflict as the UK is not dependent on Russia for its energy. Over the years, the UK has increased their renewable energy capacity and generation mainly from wind and solar energy. As of December 2020, renewable production generated 40.2.% of total electricity produced in the UK, around 6% of total UK energy usage. However, the current situation facing the UK is not a question of security of gas supply, but of high gas prices set by international markets. This is why it is so important for the UK to generate more cheap, clean renewable energy in order to reduce our reliance on expensive fossil fuels and therefore reduce emissions and be less exposed to expensive gas prices set by international markets. We are currently heading the right way, thanks to the £90 billion investment the UK is making in renewable energy since 2012, making the UK one of the most reliable and diverse energy systems in the world.
UK’s Transport Emissions
While UK imports from Ukraine are small- around $691 million- if the supply of them were to be cut, it could drive global prices up for e.g., fuel. Russia’s invasion has caused fuel prices to hit record highs, with the average price of petrol increasing to £1.51 a litre for the first time on February 27 following a surge in oil costs caused by the conflict. The typical cost at petrol stations was 150.65p on February 26 and 151.25p on February 27. This brings the cost of filling a 55-litre family car to £81.41. The increase in fuel prices is likely to keep on rising. This could lead to a reduction in transport emissions as higher petrol prices could mean less people traveling by cars and more people using public transport.
UK’s Agriculture Emissions
Food prices are set to rise in the UK and inflation could hit 8.2% due to the conflict. Ukraine is a major producer of wheat and corn, which could send food prices soaring as the Russian inflation hits supply chains and the cost-of-living crisis in the UK could be exacerbated with inflation rising well beyond current predictions of around 7% later this year. The price of food e.g., pork is likely to rise greatly due to the invasion, and it is also known that 30% of our white fish is imported from Russia. There are also fears of a wheat crisis, as Russia and Ukraine account for 14% of global wheat production, ranking first and fifth, respectively. The countries together account for nearly 30% of global wheat exports. This is an issue of food security because Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world, as is the western part of Russia. Emissions from the UK’s agricultural sector would most likely increase as the UK will need to start growing their own food in order to be not so reliant on Russia for its imports.
Has the Ukraine crisis had a positive or negative effect on efforts to reduce UK emissions?
The Ukraine crisis has had both a positive and negative effect on efforts to reduce UK emissions. A positive effect6 is that a higher energy price of gas has led the UK to think about how we can produce more renewable electricity in order not to be affected by rising gas prices set by international markets. Also, the higher fuel prices have meant that the price of petrol and diesel has gone up which can lead to people using more public transport and traveling less by cars, therefore reducing transport emissions. However, there has been a major rise in food prices as the UK depends on both Ukraine and Russia for some of its food imports. Now that the conflict has disrupted commercial shipping, the UK needs to find a way to grow its own produce and not rely on Russia and Ukraine. This may lead to an increase in emissions from the UK farming/agricultural sector. Overall, it is fair to say that the UK’s has been affected by the conflict however not as bad as Europe’s climate polices. The UK needs to find ways to make sure their climate targets are not affected by the conflict and that they continue their efforts to get closer to reaching their goals.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard UK Country Manager Manpreet Aulakh