Ukraine Needs Renewable Energy and Action Now, Not Empty Promises

Image of an oil refinery at night.

Image by Aleksandr Popov.

In the past week, global leaders convened at the United Nations and the Climate Ambition Summit, underscoring the pressing need to address the climate crisis. Concurrently, the world is confronted with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where innocent lives are tragically lost daily due to Russian-led attacks. This juncture demands that we move forward swiftly to develop clean-energy solutions for the climate crisis while acknowledging the simultaneous turmoil caused by Russia’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The overreliance on Russian fossil fuels has contributed to energy insecurity, environmental degradation, and a threat to democratic principles. It is critical to recognize the interconnection between these seemingly distinct issues and the role that U.S. companies play in indirectly supporting violence through their collaborations with the Russian fossil fuel industry. The recent revelation of Halliburton’s contribution of over $7 million worth of oil refining equipment to Russia underscores the immediate need for substantive action rather than mere rhetoric.

Over 90 per cent of the Russian targets in Ukraine are civilian infrastructure. The Ukrainian people continue to suffer and die in daily attacks from Russia, and it is a tragic reality that Russian fossil fuel exports are helping finance this brutality. It is not enough to express concern over the war; we must take concrete steps to stop these atrocities. The United States, as a leader on the global stage, must spearhead efforts to create full and transparent sanctions against Russia’s fossil fuel industry. Equally important is holding US companies like Halliburton accountable for their role in sustaining this industry.

As we discuss international climate action, it is essential to recognise that real progress means keeping Russian fossil fuels in the ground. Cutting down oil and gas production in Russia should be a priority for both ending the war in Ukraine and mitigating climate change. This serves as the first essential step towards Ukraine’s green rebuilding, a path toward a sustainable and peaceful future.

While climate change threatens the planet, the expansion of Russian fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), poses a dire threat to energy security, climate stability, and global peace. After world leaders, including President Biden, converged to address climate in New York, it became more clear that the USA must strengthen sanctions to halt the growth of this LNG fossil gas infrastructure. We cannot ignore the fact that the expansion of Russian fossil fuel capabilities further fuels the ongoing war in Ukraine. We can not ignore the fact that the LNG expansion in the US is going to lock us into gas export dependency if USA and the world won’t fast-track the renewable energy revolution. 

Recent reports underscore the need for immediate action. Ukraine has called for the prosecution of major financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and HSBC for alleged war crimes related to their financial dealings. TotalEnergies, a France-based multinational corporation, has faced accusations of complicity in war crimes due to its involvement in Russia’s energy sector. These revelations cast a shadow over the role of Western companies in the ongoing violence in Ukraine.

Furthermore, Russia has amassed about $445 billion for its exports of fossil fuels, and G20 countries that create 80% of world emissions have paid $314 billion of this as of Sept 1.

To bridge the gap between climate action and accountability for Ukraine, we propose a two-fold approach:

1. Strengthening Sanctions and Oversight

The United States and its allies must enhance sanctions against Russian fossil fuel industries, especially those that continue to export energy resources to fund the conflict. Regulatory bodies should intensify oversight of financial institutions’ transactions with entities connected to the Russian government. Transparency and accountability should be at the forefront of these efforts, and it must be the responsibility of national governments to monitor and hold firms operating under their oversight responsible.

2. Responsible Corporate Conduct

Multinational corporations operating in Russia must engage in responsible business conduct. This includes conducting due diligence to ensure their operations do not indirectly support war crimes or human rights violations. Companies that fail to uphold ethical standards should face legal consequences and reputational damage.

New York Climate Week provided an opportunity for world leaders, corporations, and individuals to align their actions with the principles of justice, peace, and environmental stewardship and start their full-speed shift to a renewable energy future. But empty promises from world leaders at big summits will no longer suffice. To secure a sustainable future, we must simultaneously tackle the climate crisis and demand accountability for those inadvertently financing fossil-fueled violence in Ukraine.

As we embark on a journey toward a greener, more just world, let us ensure that our steps are marked by integrity, responsibility, and a genuine commitment to the well-being of all, both on our planet and in regions marred by war and conflict. People of the world demand not words but actions from their leaders to save the climate and create peace, and we will be keeping up the pressure to make them act at this pivotal moment in history.

Jason Kirkpatrick is the former Vice-Mayor of Arcata, California, an internationally published author, and has been a climate campaigner and non-profit communications manager for over 30 years. Svitlana Romanko is the Founder and Director of the Ukrainian organization Razom We Stand, which grew out of the successful #StandWithUkraine campaign to end the global fossil fuel addiction that feeds Putin’s war machine. Ms. Romanko launched and coordinated both groups once the Russian war against Ukraine began. She has been an environmental lawyer for over twenty years and a high-impact climate justice campaigner for a decade. In 2022 Svitlana was awarded the Rose Braz Award for Bold Activism. Svitlana holds a PhD in Environmental, Natural Resources, Land and Agrarian Law and a doctorate in Climate Change Law, Climate Governance and Climate Policy.