The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has been called “a war over fossil fuel” because it has exposed Europe’s dependence on fossil fuel imports. But it has also underlined the urgency of switching to renewable energy to mitigate global climate breakdown.
The war has driven global inflation; food prices have soared; gas is ten times more expensive in Europe. In Nepal, the price of diesel and petrol are at record highs, and petroleum imports have increased so drastically that the government may reintroduce the odd-even rule imposed during the pandemic.
The Russia–Ukraine war is pushing countries to abandon carbon emission targets to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius in the next 30 years. Worldwide, carbon emissions have rebounded after the pandemic by 6 percent in 2021 to 36.3 gigatonnes, the biggest year-on-year increase in human history, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“The window of opportunity to slash emissions — by, in part, switching to those low carbon and renewable energy sources — is closing very rapidly,” Ukrainian climate scientist Svitlana Krakovska told the BBC recently. “This war makes the window of opportunity even more narrow because now we have to solve this problem first.”
However, the conflict could also spur countries like Germany and Italy that most depend on Russian gas to expedite the switch to cleaner energy. The European Commission this week committed to reducing its gas dependency on Russia by two-thirds this year, and to end it entirely by 2030. However, it will still need to increase imports from alternative suppliers like the US and Qatar.
Experts say Nepal should also use this opportunity to start phasing out fossil fuels, not just to meet its own net-zero commitment at the Glasgow COP26 last year, but to salvage its economy. Nepal spent NPR 180 million (USD 1.48 million) on petroleum imports in just the past six months, and this will increase.
“We ought to have learned our lessons after the 2015 Indian Blockade; if we had reduced dependence on petroleum by now this crisis would have been less damaging to us,” says Manjeet Dhakal who is also the Head of LDC Support Team at Climate Analytics. “But it is not too late, we can still turn things around by switching rapidly to Nepal’s abundant hydropower.”
This can be done by prioritising the electrification of transport and cooking. The tax rebate for private electric vehicles should include battery-powered buses. At present, an electric bus is five times more expensive than a diesel one of the same capacity. There are now 1.5 million petrol-burning two-wheelers in Nepal, even though battery-powered ones are available.
The Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (APEC) plans to give away induction stoves, but this must be expanded into a nationwide campaign to reduce LPG use.
“The Ukraine crisis is likely to sideline our climate goals for the next few years,” says Dhakal. “Europe should be using this as an opportunity and set an example to the rest of the world by rapidly transitioning to renewables and cleaner fuels.”
Coincidentally, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 28 February, 2022 warned that climate adaptation measures are too slow and small to meet 2050 targets.
“Peace is a prerequisite for any global collaboration, and especially for something as urgent and huge as the global climate crisis,” says Nepali climate activist Shilshila Acharya of the Avni Center for Sustainability.
Unlike volatile fossil fuel prices, the cost of solar panels, storage batteries and wind turbines are coming down. While international crude oil prices hit a record USD 127 per barrel this week due to the Ukraine crisis, the cost of renewable energy remained the same.
Reactive policies and ad-hoc regulations will not be sustainable in the long run for Nepal to achieve its climate goals. Measures like the odd-even rule for vehicles are like band-aids.
Says Shilshila Acharya: “The government should place citizens at the centre of policy-making, their health and well-being comes before revenue or industries. Only then can we tide over the present crisis, and make progress on climate.”
Written by Nepali Times