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Home World News Washington Post World News Ukraine war, Russian energy attacks loom over COP27 climate conference

Ukraine war, Russian energy attacks loom over COP27 climate conference



SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt — Most of the country pavilions at the UN climate conference, known as COP27, are decorated with colorful images of climate targets — in Brazil there are flashing lights, in Niger a Bedouin seating area.

The exhibition of Ukraine is gray. “Because all life in Ukraine is now the same color,” explains Alina Konovalchenko, 23, director of operations at the UN Global Compact in Ukraine. “We were on our way to the transition to climate neutrality… and to a lot of other good innovations. But with this war we were put on hold.”

This is the first COP since Russia invaded Ukraine in February — and the first time Ukraine has its own pavilion at the annual conference. Ukrainian delegates hope their presence will serve not only as a stark reminder of the human cost of the war, but also of the consequences of global dependence on fossil fuel producers like Russia.

So far they have been warmly received.

Last year, “we were often told not to politicize [discussions]said Alex Riabchyn, who has represented Ukraine at COP since 2015. This year, however, dozens of world leaders have condemned the Russian invasion. “When [attendees] see you have the Ukrainian flag on your jacket, people are coming to hug us,” he said. “People say ‘Slava Ukraina’ and come to our pavilion to shake hands.”

The fact that world leaders devote three-minute speeches to the war has boosted the spirit of the Ukrainian delegation, he said. Addressing the conference remotely from Kiev on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces have already destroyed 5 million hectares of forest. “There can be no effective climate policy without peace,” he said.

War is a common theme here in discussions on a wide range of global topics – from migration and food insecurity to climate finance. “If the world goes into recession, largely related to the war in Ukraine, it will be a problem for everyone, as the resources available to tackle climate change could come under pressure,” said António Vitorino, head of the United Nations Migration Office.

The conference also coincides with a period of intense concern in Europe over the ongoing energy crisis as winter approaches and millions of people may struggle to heat their homes. Last month, Russia stepped up its attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, methodically destroying key nodes, including those that power the country’s heating systems. The bombings mainly affect civilians and amount to war crimes, Western officials said. European leaders also fear that the attacks could lead to a new wave of Ukrainian refugees.

“Putin’s horrific war in Ukraine and rising energy prices around the world are no reason to slow down climate change,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. “They are a reason to act faster.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the switch to renewable energy as a “security policy necessity”.

Russia’s methodical attacks exploit the vulnerability of Ukraine’s power system

At the beginning of this week, some 4 million Ukrainians experienced power outages in their homes as a result of the Russian attacks, including Maxim Timchenko, CEO of DTEK, Ukraine’s largest energy company. He attends COP27, where he tries to rally support for replacement infrastructure to repair the damage and avoid prolonged blackouts.

“Just as our military says, ‘Give us equipment, we’re ready to fight,’ we can send the same message as an energy company,” he said. “But our battle is in the energy war. … That is why the supply of infrastructure equipment is crucial and as important as military equipment.”

Officials in Kiev are already setting up heating stations and preparing plans to evacuate people from the capital in the event of a power crisis this winter.

Olha Boiko, 26, who works at the Kiev-based NGO Ecoaction and is a regional coordinator at the Climate Action Network, said climate activists struggled to advocate for their cause at the start of the war, but are now finding their voices.

“When there’s a huge empire of fossil fuels attacking you and everything related to that is something we have to fight against,” she said, it becomes easier “to prove to people that relying on fossil fuels and having a centralized system is dangerous, not just because of a hurricane or something, but also because of war.”

Suddenly she said, “There is no resistance to problems that we have been pushing for years.”

Through more intimate talks, Ukrainian deputies also hope to change the minds of those who still see the war as “new powers against old powers,” said Oleg Kirichuk, a member of the delegation.

“Our goal is to convince African countries, to convince Latin America, India… countries that still don’t support Ukraine that Ukraine needs their support,” he said.

On the bus from the airport to her hotel, Konovalchenko began talking to a COP delegate from Sudan, she said.

“He started with the sentence ‘Okay, I understand you and I support you, but,’ and ended with the words ‘Oh, I didn’t know the whole picture,'” she said.

Outside the conference, however, a different dynamic is at play.

Before the war, the resorts of Sharm were among the most popular holiday destinations for Ukrainian and Russian tourists. Restaurant menus are often written in Cyrillic. The influx of tourists from both locations has decreased significantly since the start of the war. And although Russians face more and more obstacles to travel abroad, they can still come to Egypt.

Konovalchenko’s hotel receives Russian tourists. At breakfast this week, she said, Russian was the only language she heard.

“I know that all people have the right to rest, but it is very painful to see how easily they can relax and chill, knowing that their country is bombing Ukraine and our children are without water or food,” she said.

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