War and climate justice: a discussion

OpenDemocracy yesterday hosted a useful, and sobering, discussion about the war in Ukraine and the fight for climate justice, with Oleh Savitsky (Stand with Ukraine and Ukraine Climate Network), Angelina Davydova (a prominent commentator on Russian climate policy) and me (Simon Pirani)

Source > People and Nature

To open, I made three points about the policy response by the governments of rich western countries that consume most of those fossil fuels.

1. Political leaders are focusing on replacing Russian oil and gas with supplies from elsewhere. This undermines all the promises made at the international climate talks.

So the UK government, just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, gave the go-ahead for a new oil field, Jackdaw, operated by Shell – when we know that tackling climate change means there can be no new oil fields in rich countries.

2. The focus on supplies undermines efforts to deal with the really urgent issue, from a climate point of view – to reduce, permanently, the throughput of energy made from fossil fuels through the big technological systems that society uses.

For example: a large share of the gas consumed in Europe is used for home heating, to raise the temperature in people’s homes by a few degrees.

This is a criminal waste of resources. Simple technologies have existed for decades to heat homes differently: proper insulation, heat pumps, district heating systems and so on.

The gas shortages associated with Russia’s aggression should be tackled in the first place by ramping up these low-energy technologies.

3. The war has disrupted energy markets. That has hit millions of households in the form of gigantic rises in energy bills.  

In social movements, policies to defend households from the unbearable effects of these bills, to defend those who can not pay those bills, must go hand in hand with policies to tackle the climate crisis, such as programmes of home insulation, support for public transport instead of cars, and so on. (Don’t Pay UK is taking this approach.)


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Simon Pirani is a writer and activist who blogs at peoplenature.org. His most recent book is Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption.

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