President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Tuesday warned that the “insane” and “illegal” war provoked by Russia was distracting international attention from the threat of climate change and contributing to the “catastrophic” effects of global warming.
“The world needs honesty, we must tell those who do not take the climate agenda seriously, that they are making a catastrophic mistake,” he said in a video address to COP27, the United Nations climate change conference taking place in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.
He said that the conflict in Ukraine had forced countries to deal with the threat of Russian aggression rather than focus the necessary attention on the common goal of fighting climate change. There “can be no effective climate policy without the peace, on the Earth,” he said. Russia, he added, must “shut the guns and hide its missiles.”
President Andrzej Duda of Poland also stressed the negative effect of the war in worsening climate change, noting that the conflict was a threat to the planet. “The consequence of Russia’s aggression are crisis and huge costs which put at risk timely implementation of climate transition as well as timely attainment of the intended goals,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, the world’s attention has been focused on the human cost of the war, but experts say that Ukraine’s ecosystems and species are also vulnerable. The country is home to vibrant wetlands and forests and a large swath of virgin steppe. Russian troops have entered and sometimes conducted military operations in some of the country’s protected natural areas.
Reports from the ground and research on previous armed conflicts suggest that the ecological impact of the conflict could be enormous. Wars destroy habitats, kill wildlife, generate pollution and remake ecosystems entirely, with dire consequences that can reverberate for years.
For instance, the war has contributed to the sudden and mysterious deaths of thousands of Black Sea dolphins, some burned from bomb or mine explosions.
However, the war may offer one unintended assist in the effort to combat climate change. With Europe in an energy crisis prompted by Russia’s strategy of cutting off or curtailing gas deliveries, the continent may transition away from fossil fuels more rapidly, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.