Image courtesy of Razom We Stand

The War In Ukraine, Fossil Fuels, & Petro-Dictators

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There are many reasons the use of fossil fuels cannot be continued. One is climate change caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Another is the harm to human health caused by fossil fuel’s toxic pollutants. Tragically, there are disastrous oil spills such as Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, and many others. 

The damage caused by fossil fuels does not end there. Some nations that have become wealthy by extracting and exporting fossil fuels have also developed their militaries and weapon inventories and become overly aggressive. Russia and Vladimir Putin have made immense amounts of money from gas and oil. (Saddam Hussein also made billions, but less.) The number of fatalities and injuries caused by the Russia-Ukraine war has been estimated to be near 500,000. Russia continues to make money from oil and gas as the war continues.

Ukrainian environmental lawyer Svitlana Romanko is the founder and director of Razom We Stand. The organization has called for ending the purchasing of Russian oil and gas, and investing in Russian oil and gas companies. Romanko has been quoted in a White House statement about the proposed LNG investment in the US.

She generously answered some questions about the war in the Ukraine, fossil fuels, and geopolitics for CleanTechnica.

For people who are unfamiliar with the term, what is a petro-dictator?

Fossil fuel dictatorships/autocracies are political regimes led by an individual or group/political party that rely heavily on profits from fossil fuels to run the state. The unlimited flow of wealth from the sale of fossil fuels and dependence on them by other countries insulates these regimes from international criticism and pressure when they engage in internal repression or external aggression.

Furthermore, fossil fuel wealth funds the extensive military and police apparatus of these regimes, allowing them to use their wealth to make strategic investments and payments to other countries. The careful use of military threats and monetary incentives ensures that the actions of these regimes, when they violate global order and democratic norms, remain unchallenged. This emboldens such regimes to crack down further on any internal dissent, including democratic mobilizations of their citizens, to halt climate change — especially since the latter could spell the end of the fossil fuel economy and endanger the regime’s hold on power. More to read in the Fossil fuel petro-dictatorships and petro-states: How oil and Gas Revenues Fund Wars and Violate Human Rights report.

Why does Ukraine not need liquified natural gas from the US? 

Ukraine has suffered enough because of gas being used as a geopolitical weapon, with 80% of its central heating coming from burning gas. Now we realize in full-on different layers of society, traumatized by war but keeping the spirit of the clean energy revolution to get rid of the deadly addiction to fossil fuels. This is a moral leadership the EU and other nations must follow and help build, politically and practically.

The primary reasons Ukraine does not need liquefied natural gas from the US are indeed highly practical and rooted in the current geopolitical and logistical challenges facing the country:

Lack of LNG Infrastructure: Ukraine does not have the necessary infrastructure, specifically LNG regasification terminals, to import and convert LNG back into gas for distribution and use within its energy system. Building such infrastructure requires significant investment and time and is not feasible or a priority given the country’s current situation and needs. 

War and Blockade of Sea Trade Routes: The ongoing war with Russia has led to significant disruptions in Ukraine’s ability to engage in maritime trade. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for Ukraine to safely import LNG or any other maritime cargo from distant suppliers like the US. The blockade and associated risks increase the costs and complexities of maritime logistics, making importing LNG from the US unviable under the current circumstances. 

These two factors combined make the option of importing LNG from the US is neither feasible nor helpful for Ukraine at this time. The country has had to explore and prioritize alternative energy sources, routes, and strategies to meet its energy needs amidst the ongoing war and its broader geopolitical challenges.

If the world’s nations transition entirely to clean, renewable energy, meaning no fossil fuels, what will happen to the petro-dictators?

Once world nations successfully transition to clean, renewable energy, the addiction on fossil fuels will diminish, and with that, so will the end and power of petro-dictators like Putin. Petro-dictators are left with very little power or bargaining chips on the world stage without the revenue generated from their nation’s oil and gas resources. They will no longer be able to blackmail us with access and price for energy. It will also prevent the decline of democratic systems, defuse the climate crisis and foster peace worldwide. For that, we need not just Putin’s fossil fuels sanctioned — it all must go.

If nations no longer rely on these fossil fuels from countries rich in oil and gas reserves, they will be far less likely to ignore their hideous war crimes, and real change will happen much faster and without the need for more bloodshed. 

How do fossil fuels contribute to geopolitical instability?

Fossil fuels play a dual role in exacerbating geopolitical instability. Firstly, they cause a deep, obsolete addiction. They create a severe imbalance in wealth and power between fossil fuel over profiting companies, rich governments and poor citizens of developing countries. They feed military conflicts, human rights abuse and climate breakdown. They sponsor weak climate policies. They kill millions. Petro-dictators, like Putin, thrive on the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, utilizing the revenues to fuel aggression and kill innocent people in the process. It is essential to cut support for industries that contribute to the climate crisis and the pockets of authoritarian regimes, acknowledging the significant role of Big Oil in creating the catastrophic environmental and geopolitical conditions we currently face.

This climate catastrophe, fueled by the actions of industries like Big Oil, has inflicted trillions of dollars in losses and caused immeasurable health problems, impacting billions of dollars and millions of lives. It is crucial to emphasize the urgent need for a shift toward cheap, clean energy, steering away from dirty LNG, which plays a role in climate disruption that could result in astronomical costs, projected to reach up to $178 trillion by 2070.

The fossil fuel industry’s desire for business as usual perpetuates the continuation of annual global subsidies, a burden placed on taxpayers and amounting to a staggering $7 trillion per year.  By opposing such practices and advocating for a transition to sustainable energy sources, we can address the root causes of the climate crisis and mitigate the long-term geopolitical instability and conflicts. And we need to cut the demand for fossil fuels dramatically. 

What is Ukraine doing to transition to clean, renewable energy?

Ukraine is actively working to transition to clean, renewable energy through a series of ambitious projects and strategic plans despite facing significant challenges due to ongoing war and infrastructural damage. We hope all destroyed or damaged coal power units, for instance, will be replaced with renewable energy. Another inspiration for us is to help bring to life a new progressive legislation that will eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and make Ukraine an emerging clean-energy economy of the future. 

Here’s a detailed overview of Ukraine’s efforts based on the recent developments reported:

Over 2 years (2022-2023), Ukraine has added more than 660 MW of new RES capacity, according to the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine. 

This expansion includes solar and wind power plants, biogas, and small hydropower plants, demonstrating a diversified approach to renewable energy sources. Specifically, about 312 MW was added in 2022, and approximately 350 MW in 2023, indicating a steady growth in the sector despite the country’s challenges. The Energy Strategy of Ukraine sets ambitious targets for renewable energy, aiming for renewables to constitute at least 25% of the energy balance by 2030, with a vision to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This strategy underscores the importance of clean energy in ensuring energy independence and security, especially in the face of military aggression.

How is the war in the Ukraine tied to fossil fuels?

The war in Ukraine is intricately tied to fossil fuels, primarily through Russia’s heavy reliance on oil and gas revenues to finance its military endeavours. In 2024, the Kremlin plans to allocate nearly a third of its total expenditures to the military and military-industrial complex, reaching levels not seen since the Soviet era. The substantial growth in Russian oil and gas revenues, exceeding €87.8 billion in 2023 and projected to reach €118.9 billion in 2024, underscores the nation’s economic dependence on fossil fuels and how they are able to fund their continued acts of cruelty in Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s ambition to transition from an energy power to a military superpower is fueled by these substantial revenues, and it seeks to sustain this transformation. Western and Eastern nations inadvertently contribute to funding Russia’s militarization by maintaining their reliance on Russian fossil fuel exports. The significant role of oil and gas companies as top taxpayers in Russia further solidifies their influence in shaping the nation’s economic landscape.

The war of aggression waged by the Kremlin is, to a large extent, financed by the proceeds from fossil fuel exports. Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has accumulated over $600 billion in profits from exporting oil and gas. This financial influx not only stabilizes the national currency but also facilitates the rush to develop new projects like the Arctic LNG 2 mega-project. 

Can everyday consumers do anything to ensure they are not supporting petro-dictators and violence?

One of the most impactful steps individuals can take is to transition towards renewable energy sources for their personal consumption. This may involve installing solar panels on their homes, opting for electric vehicles, and supporting companies that prioritize renewable energy solutions.

The more we reduce consumption of fossil fuels, the more we liberate us from the power of petrodollars and petro-dictators. 

Consumers can also actively engage in advocacy efforts aimed at promoting policies that prioritize clean energy initiatives and divestment from fossil fuel investments. By raising awareness, participating in community actions, and supporting organizations dedicated to environmental sustainability, individuals can contribute to the broader movement towards a cleaner, more sustainable future, e.g. sign our Manifesto for a New Ukraine and a New World.

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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter:

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