War, Fossil Fuels and Climate Change

War, Fossil Fuels and Climate Change

The brutal attack by Russia on Ukraine in combination with the shortfall in fossil fuel production and rebound in demand for oil and gas has led to soaring prices and market uncertainty across the globe. During this crisis, the fossil fuel industry and political allies are pushing for increased production to replace Russian resources, undermining domestic and international efforts to fight the root cause of climate change. Many argue that as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels, geopolitical instability, volatile energy prices and locking in irreversible climate change will be the norm thus the answer is to accelerate the expansion of clean energy and low-carbon technologies.

On April 5, Cara Pike (Climate Access Executive Director and Senior Communication Advisor to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty) and Ashwini Prabha (Communications Manager at Global Gas and Oil Network) moderated a roundtable conversation with five experts from Ukraine, Kenya, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. The panelists shared insights on how to make the case for expansion of clean energy at this critical time while being sensitive to people’s concerns, the complexity of the situation and the life and death situations people in Ukraine are facing each day.

Svitlana Romanko (Zero Fossil Fuels Campaign Manager, Laudato Si’ Movement):

We need to end our toxic dependency on fossil fuels. They are weapons of mass destruction threatening our ability to protect livelihoods, security and the planet.

  • Since the war began, we’ve witnessed the world changing. There are no words to describe the horrors and barbarity that has been funded, fed and fueled by the oil, coal and gas industries that are driving the Russian war against Ukraine. Fossil fuels are very much interconnected with the war in Ukraine and with the climate crisis. Purchases of Russian fossil fuel exports are funding the war. Reliance on oil, gas and coal is an intentional embrace of destruction and collapse at a global scale.  
  • Svitlana Romanko and 45 Ukrainian organizations and networks launched the Stand With Ukraine campaign — a call for global solidarity to impose a full embargo on Russian fossil fuels and seize all investments that are fueling this war. 740 organizations have joined the call. We also need new bold proposals like the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to phase out fossil fuels and rapidly transition to a world powered and empowered by clean energy. There is a hunger for change in Ukraine society and in other countries impacted in the global south.

Janet Milongo (Coordinator on Renewables – Global Platform of Action on Renewable Energy, Climate Action Network International):

There is a ripple effect across the globe and the effects of the war are being felt in Africa.

  • Kenya is in the middle of a fuel crisis due to the rise in petroleum prices and other domestic factors. The fuel crisis, combined with severe drought and famine, are threatening food security. The overdependence on fossil fuels, including fossil fuels from Russia is not sustainable. There is an immediate need to stop fossil fuel production, rapidly transition to renewables in a just and equitable manner, and establish food and energy systems that are sustainable and community owned.
  • Not all regions and countries will be able to carry out the transition at the same pace. African countries may need to continue fossil fuel production longer, because production and exports are tied to economic and development goals. However, if there is adequate finance and support, then the transition can be made faster while also meeting development goals. It is important for developed countries to support and coordinate with developing countries to transfer technology and provide financial resources and infrastructure for renewables to increase energy access and energy security.

Miriam Malek (Oil & Gas Lead, Global Strategic Communications Council):

The war in Ukraine is creating a link in the public’s mind about what gas actually is, where it’s coming from, and who’s involved.

  • There is a divide between global north and south narratives. One of the main themes is around energy security. There is a lot of discussion in Europe about transitioning faster to gain energy security, but there is disagreement about what energy security actually means depending on how exposed your country is to energy access. One way to consider this divide, is the difference between near term and long term measures, such as emphasizing energy efficiency and scaling us renewable energy, with energy security as a component of these efforts.
  • Prior to the conflict, there were low levels of awareness that gas was a fossil fuel and where oil supplies are sourced. The war has highlighted the complexity of energy and food systems and how intertwined they are. It is an effective strategy to link fossil fuels to bad faith actors. We are seeing increased coverage of the role of oil companies and the hypocrisy of how governments are handling the situation.

Jamie Henn (Founder and Director, Fossil Free Media):

This is going to be a difficult decade where we’re forced to move from crisis to crisis and push this transition forward in the midst of a world that is wracked by conflict. This calls on us to think differently as communicators, to be bold and visionary and put forward the change we need.

  • In the US, there is broad public support to move away from fossil fuels, but people don’t believe it is possible. The communications challenge is to simplify the complexity, so it feels attainable. We have the technology we need right now to make the transition and it’s easier than people might think. Speaking to people on an emotional level and in the language of values is key. Focus on what renewable energy means for our security, freedom, pride and control over our own energy systems and livelihoods. Be clear about what’s standing in the way of the transition. Call out of the role of big oil in blocking this transition, helping set up the crisis we find ourselves in, and making billions of dollars of profit off the war in Ukraine.
  • 89% of US voters want to hold big oil accountable for high prices. Messaging about going after the industry and making them pay can be effective and translate into political action. The concept of “profiteering” provides an explanation for high prices at the pump instead of blaming climate policies or the administration. We also need to push for immediate solutions for the prices people are paying. It isn’t fair to put burden of high prices on low-income people. We need to support people as we make the transition. A windfall profits tax on big oil could shift the conversation to big oil paying more taxes.

Sarah Lazarovic (Head of Communications and Brand, Rewiring America):

We can’t solve a fossil fuel problem with more fossil fuels. We need to push back on that narrative and show that electrification is possible. 

  • How can we message so that people feel empowered? We need to be clear about the things that people can do. Electrification is tangible and something that people can wrap their heads around and see that it brings down emissions. And we need to do it equitably.
  • We have to constantly position this alternate narrative that another world is possible. People almost don’t want to believe it to be true because they’ve been given the fossil fuel narrative for so long. We don’t have to live in a fossil fuel beholden world with no way out. The narrative that the fossil fuels profiteers keep putting forth in the context of the war in Ukraine is that we have sto keep drilling now because we need this oil immediately, but we know that drilling now doesn’t mean price relief immediately, it doesn’t do anything except dig us deeper into climate catastrophe.

Watch a recording of the full conversation.