Tuesday, June 11, 2024
 
 

First Ukraine, now Gaza: the impact of war has set us back on climate change

US Department of Defense
US Navy F-14A Tomcat flying over Kuwaiti oil wells that were set on fire by Iraqi forces during the Persian Gulf War, 1991. The Iraqi oil fields that were set on fire in 1991 during the first Gulf War contributed two percent of global emissions for that year. Now it is the war in Ukraine and prospect of widening conflict in the Middle East which is threatening to overshadow the world’s attempts to avert a climate crisis.

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Discussions of man-made global warming are usually based on a 1-degree Celsius rise since 1880 due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

It was driven by people’s need for oil for their cars and coal to heat their homes and the places where they worked.

But not enough attention has been paid to the extent to which wars by necessity have also been bad for the environment with fossil-fuel-guzzling armies, navies and air forces also major contributors to carbon emissions.

The Iraqi oil fields that were set on fire in 1991 during the Gulf War contributed two percent of global emissions for that year.

According to a study by Oil Change International the Second Gulf War was responsible for 141 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions, more than was emitted by 21 of the EU Member States in the whole of 2019.

Now it is the war in Ukraine and the prospect of widening conflict in the Middle East, which threatened to overshadow the world’s attempts to avert a climate crisis at this month’s COP28 summit in Dubai.

A report earlier this year found that the first year of Vladimir Putin’s aggression triggered a net increase of 120 million tons of greenhouse gases, both in bombs and rockets and also Kyiv’s reconstruction efforts. In the first five weeks alone there were 36 Russian attacks on fossil fuel infrastructure which led to prolonged fires releasing soot, methane and CO2 into the atmosphere.

Stephen Richards, Chair of SARN Energy, which specializes in distressed investments in highly regulated sectors, and a former director of international market development at the US Department of Energy, says the reality of continuing wars in multiple theaters means that fossil fuels could be needed until 2080, not just for military needs but also the transport sector.

“The ongoing conflicts highlight the significance of carbon fuel markets, a reality that governments and politicians may underestimate. Essentially, military operations take precedence over the climate debate,” he said. “A similar case can be made for transportation. The electrified transportation objectives set by governments may not be feasible, making fuels a transitional necessity for the next one or two generations,” Richards added.

When the crisis in the Middle East erupted, US President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve $14 billion of military aid for Israel to counter the £100 million a year, which Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are said to get from Iran.

The military world is responsible for 5.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions and there is growing pressure on individual countries to reveal what they contribute, something which has not been done ever since President Bill Clinton carved out an exemption for the US on national security grounds.

As a result, they were left off the table at the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Accords, and have once again been excluded from the final agreement at the Dubai conference.

Domestic oil and gas production are becoming vital for nations’ energy security at this time of international uncertainty, especially in the Middle East where the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are based.

Earlier this year the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave the go-ahead for drilling at the Rosebank oil field 80 miles off Scotland saying that using every last drop of oil in the North Sea was “absolutely the right thing to do.”

David Whitehouse, Chief Executive of Offshore Energies UK, said: “When you see things like the war in Ukraine and unrest now in the Middle East, I think more and more it makes you recognize that it is in a country’s interests to be producing their own energy.”

“I think fossil fuels, as the world looks to transition and find lower sources of affordable energy with lower emissions, fossil fuels, oil and gas are going to continue to play a role over time,” Whitehouse added.

In October a colossal fracking operator was created in Texas with the $59.5 billion takeover of Pioneer Natural Resources by Exxon Mobil. By 2027, production volume is expected to climb to two million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

It leaves little doubt over the company’s commitment to fossil fuels as energy prices rise.

The fact that the richest countries spent $9.45 trillion on military spending between 2013 and 2021 – thirty times more than on climate finance – shows just where governments’ real priorities lay.

And that was before Russian President Vladimir Putin fired his first missile at Ukraine and Hamas went on its murderous October 7 rampage.

Each day of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and in Israel is inevitably pushing the world away from real climate change action.

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Managing Director of EnergyComms and Former Head of Public Affairs at Nuclear Industry Association

Simon James is the Managing Director of EnergyComms. He has a deep knowledge of the energy industry having worked as Head of Public Affairs for the Nuclear Industry Association and UK Public Affairs Manager for Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB) for 10 years

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