The Effect of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on Ukranian Climate Policy and Practices

The Effect of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on Ukranian Climate Policy and Practices

In the period between 24.02 and 31.03 more than 1400 missiles were fired at Ukrainian targets by Russian army. Unlike expected, the missiles hit not only military targets but civil and energy infrastructure, putting at risk energy security, nuclear safety, environmental integrity, and livelihoods of civilians. There are immediate risks and casualties, but there are also long-lasting effects caused by destruction, debris, and toxic substances built-up. Moreover, the seen level of destruction obviously leads to high levels of GHG emissions.

Nuclear Safety Risks

With the war ongoing, some territories were or are still occupied. For example, the territories of Chernobyl and Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plants, and other nuclear objects were either shelled or occupied and used to store Russian ammunition, while Ukrainian NPP workers were kept hostage. For about a month these sites were not under international control, therefore, no safety guaranties could be provided. Moreover, Chernobyl NPP was repeatedly left without electricity risking to undermine nuclear safety. As of 04.01, the Chernobyl NPP was reclaimed by Ukraine while Russian troops withdrew forces from the North of Ukraine. The Ukrainian state energy company Energoatom alleged that Russian troops had withdrawn because they had experienced radiation sickness from digging trenches in contaminated ground, while IAEA confirmed that the control over the Chernobyl NPP was transferred to Ukrainian personnel. Zaporizhzhya NPP is still controlled by the Russian military, while power units are serviced by Ukrainian personnel and workers are rotated. Formally, the occupiers do not interfere in the work of the station, although the staff is forced to coordinate all technical decisions with Russian commander.

Destruction of Civil Infrastructure

Other territories that are occupied or where active military action is ongoing are under high pressure of destruction, although in these areas it is impossible to estimate all the losses caused to the environment. As calculated by the Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, 77 million dollars were estimated losses caused by only 5 cases of soil pollution due to infrastructure destruction.

The negative impact on the environment is clearly caused by fires due to the shelling of storage facilities for industrial products (including oil, petrochemicals and other chemical products), energy infrastructure (nuclear, gas, hydro) and other civil infrastructure (water infrastructure and waste storage). Such destruction results not only in immediate casualties, but also in a high rate of emissions and pollution, evaporation of toxic substances that possess short- and long-term health risks, and, furthermore, due to losses within energy infrastructure limiting the economy functioning due to limited fuel availability.

The East of Ukraine suffers the most destruction due to Russian aggression, while the area is heavily industrialized and has facilities that are hazardous if injured or mismanaged. The area has been at risk since the start of the conflict in 2014, but with a start of a full-scale war and the usage of weaponry prohibited by international law, the situation has deteriorated. For example, Donetsk and Lugansk regions have many coal mining facilities. Two of the mines (Zolote and Toshkivka mine) are already partly flooded due to electricity disruptions and are not recoverable, while some others are still under the risk of flooding. Electricity infrastructure disruptions often occurring as a result of shellings are not recoverable under constant fire. And if full flooding is allowed, the chain reaction of flooding is to happen with the major water-carrying artery Siverskyi Donets to be polluted. Unfortunately, there is a lack of information on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories, therefore, the risks are impossible to account for and manage.

The most notable effect of energy infrastructure and energy storage facilities destruction can be seen in agriculture, as there is limited land and limited resources that can be used during the ongoing sowing campaign. Still, although the energy infrastructure is being repeatedly shelled and bombed, the energy system is stable. As a result of the war, the energy consumption rate fell by 35% due to many industrial facilities not being able to function in the affected areas. Some cities under siege make considerable efforts to restore injured energy infrastructure, although in some of such cities it is still impossible due to constant shellings. As a result, such cities remain without energy and other essential infrastructure on top of being partially destroyed.

Renewable Energy Infrastructure

Even more, there are numerous renewable energy sources in the areas affected by war. That accounts for almost half of the existing objects in Ukraine corresponding to almost 4 GW being present in the area of active military action, as reported by the Ukrainian Association of Renewable Energy. That puts such objects at risk of being destroyed with assets worth more than $5.6 billion being at risk of damage. That is leading to undermining the previous decarbonization efforts. At present, some RES facilities have already stopped their work. There are reported cases of destruction of wind turbines, solar panels, electrical equipment of stations, power lines, and substations. In addition, the Russian occupiers are stealing equipment from RES stations.

Response to the Energy Challenges

In the policy arena, the war brought considerable changes, with increasing understanding of the international community that buying gas and oil from Russia not only exacerbates climate change but actually funds Russian aggression against Ukraine.  From the Ukrainian side, it led to higher energy independence, as the imports from Russia had to be stopped. Ukraine previously was connected to Russian and Belarusian grids for supporting energy supply, and 24.02 when Ukraine disconnected from the grid. After 21 days of working in an isolated state, the energy system of Ukraine was tuned into ENTSO-E way earlier than it was planned previously (in 2023). This step is going to support the energy security of Ukraine despite any possible destruction of the energy infrastructure in Ukraine.

Total costs of fossil fuels bought from Russia by EU countries since the start of the war amount to more than 18 billion euros. Moreover, gas is still being transported to some European countries through Ukraine. Representative of Naftogaz (state-owned oil and gas company) considers it safer to continue transportation than to force the redirection of gas supply chains and make Ukraine more vulnerable to aggression this way. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian gas infrastructure is getting injured forcing methane emissions. Recalling the Global Methane Pledge to reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gases by at least 30% by 2030, the achievement of that goal is further than it was before, and the priorities have shifted more towards geopolitical resilience. Ukraine cannot stop the transit unilaterally and calls on the allies to stop importing fossil fuels and speed up the green transition and energy-independence.

Natural Environment Disruption

Through the offensive on the territory of Ukraine Russian military violated a number of environmental conventions. The ongoing military actions with numerous occupant vehicles raiding Ukrainian lands are disrupting the natural ecosystems. Many vehicles were destroyed or left behind on land, in rivers or sea, causing pollution to the ecosystems. For example, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, about half of Ramsar sites (14 sites with an area of 397.7 thousand hectares) were impacted due by Russian military actions on them. These are the sites located on the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas and in the lower reaches of the Danube and Dnipro rivers. According to preliminary estimates of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, as of March 1, 2022, the aggressor was fighting on the territory of 900 objects of the nature reserve fund with an area of 1.24 million hectares (about a third of the nature reserve fund area of Ukraine). About 200 territories of the Emerald Network with an area of 2.9 million hectares are under threat of destruction. Moreover, a lot of bushfires were recorded possibly as a result of bombing and shelling, including in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where the fires were recorded on the area of 10,287 ha (as of 01.04). While throughout the territory of Ukraine almost 102,000 hectares of landscapes have already been damaged by bombings. Especially in the occupied territories and the territories Russian troops retreated from large areas are covered with bombs and mines that have not exploded yet and will further possess danger to population and environment until neutralized.

Environmental Control

As Ukraine is battling aggression from its neighboring country, the economy is reoriented into a military state. Still, many businesses, especially in more affected areas, are incapable of continuing their activity. According to EBRD, Ukraine’s GDP is expected to fall by 20% in 2022, while the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine already reports a 16% reduction and expects the fall to reach 40% by the end of 2022 if hostilities continue. Of course, the sectors that are unable to work remotely suffer the most. At the same time, some environmental control measures were simplified to enable businesses to continue their work and further support the economy which is devastatingly impacted by the war. Many governmental plans and policies imposed earlier are impossible to fulfil and most of the environmental action is put on hold until the end of the war. As stated by the Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection, Russia’s aggression has also forced Ukraine to suspend its mitigation and adaptation efforts. Due to the attack on Ukraine and the violation of all norms of international law, there is a high probability of increased costs for the military-industrial complex around the world, which will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Now Ukraine’s focus is on the international arena and encouraging other countries and partners to stop the fossil-fuel-fueled war by restricting the aggressor and its activity. Ukraine’s activists called for Russian fossil fuel embargo, and the call is now supported by 610+ organisations in 57 countries.

Response to the Crimes Against the Environment

Military actions against Ukraine are causing destruction of the environment, therefore, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, State Environmental Inspectorate and several NGOs are gathering evidence on crimes against the environment to enable further compensation for the incurred destruction. In the first month of hostilities, environmental activists recordedmore than 100 cases of crimes against the environment. Moreover, the civil society of Ukraine is encouraged to submit photo/video evidence of such crimes. There are also independent organizations (such as PAX for peace) contributing to gathering possible evidence (including environment-related crimes) from open sources intelligence. All the possible evidence is needed to support the case in the International Court of Justice.Even despite the lack of clarity on the end of the hostilities, Ukraine’s environmental organizations and the Ministry of Environmental Protection are already looking into ways of green recovery. Of course, much will need to be rebuilt, but that also means that from the start we can rebuild our cities to be more energy-efficient, green and resilient. Moreover, there is a deeper understanding that energy system needs to be further restructured towards eliminating energy dependence on imports of coal, gas, oil and nuclear fuel.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Ukraine Country Manager Anastasiia Bushovska


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