February 25, 2022 Could the Ukraine Conflict Boost Renewables?

As the harsh reality set in Thursday that President Vladimir Putin was, in fact,  invading Ukraine, starting the largest conflict in Europe since World War II, many analysts speculated what a major war could mean for a continent that has long depended on exported fossil fuels from Russia.  

One casualty, analysts surmised, would be global efforts to tackle climate change. Dealing with the immediate consequences of war could prompt countries to set aside their efforts to deal with the broader climate crisis. A prolonged war could lead to a growing number of nations cutting ties with Russia, along with its significant supply of oil and gas to the world, spurring other countries to boost their own production and increase emissions. Already, the world market is feeling the crunch, with oil prices soaring above $100 per barrel for the first time since 2014.

But there is also evidence that Russia’s foray could be inadvertently accelerating the transition to cleaner energy. As stocks plummeted on Thursday in reaction to Russia’s invasion, the European Renewable Energy Index surged as much as 9.3 percent. It was the biggest stock jump since the pandemic lows of March 2020 and posed a stark contrast to the European market’s collapse.

In the United States, individual renewable energy companies also saw massive gains. When the market closed Thursday, the stock price for Sunrun Inc., an American company that provides residential solar panels and batteries, had skyrocketed nearly 22 percent. Conversely, stocks for oil majors like BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil all remain down after a major price drop on Wednesday.

“When there’s less certainty about other sources of energy, that will help renewables because they’re a cheap source of electricity,” Joe Keefe, CEO of Pax World Funds, a line of fossil-fuel-free funds, told the financial services firm Morningstar. “They’ve become very competitive from a price standpoint and are good long-term investments.”

Some developing countries have also expressed that they see the Russia-Ukraine conflict as an opportunity to attract new global investments around clean energy, a move that could help provide long-term energy security, while at the same time helping nations meet their climate goals.

“I see an opportunity here as the economics for investing in renewable energy here in the Philippines might even be accelerated,” Ceferino Rodolfo, the country’s top trade official, said regarding the Russian conflict at a virtual meeting hosted by energy developers on Wednesday.

Like most island nations, the Philippines depends heavily on imported fossil fuels and could benefit significantly from installing more wind, solar and hydroelectric power—something the nation has been pushing for as it aims to phase out its coal-fired power plants.

Still, it’s unclear just how the Eastern European conflict will play out and whether it will ultimately advance or hinder the world’s climate efforts. Besides its horrific toll on human life, war is also an incredibly carbon-heavy endeavor. A drawn out conflict involving a world superpower could mean a major bump in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming months or years.

The U.S. military, for example, released a massive amount of climate-warming emissions during its 20-year armed conflict in the Middle East. Since the beginning of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has produced more than 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, according to one recent analysis. That exceeds what entire countries like Portugal and Denmark emitted during that same period.

Russia’s army undoubtedly has its own massive carbon footprint. As of last year, Russia’s army ranked second largest in the world, behind the U.S., when considering overall budget, enlisted troops and military vehicles combined. Among its arsenal are 15,398 tanks, 3,429 aircraft and 55 submarines, which produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

750,000 square miles

As of Tuesday, that’s the span of ice covering the Antarctic coast, marking the lowest amount of sea ice surrounding the continent in four decades, researchers said.