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Razom We Stand, Oleh Savytskyi, Olha Yevstihnieieva: What tips can we learn from COP27 for the green post-war reconstruction of Ukraine?

November 28, 2022 9:46 AM 4 min read
President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a statement via video address during the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government summit on the third day of the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Getty Images)
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Editor’s Note: Razom We Stand is a Ukrainian grassroots movement calling for a total and permanent embargo on Russian fossil fuels and an immediate end to all investment into Russian oil and gas companies. The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of the Kyiv Independent.

The key takeaways at the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) were the following: to keep fossil fuels below ground, gradually phase out oil, gas, and coal, and accelerate the world’s green transition to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

These elements should also be foundational guidelines for Ukraine’s post-war economic recovery.

The impacts of climate change are widespread and intensifying. The energy and food crises provoked by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine kept the COP27 participants on the same track: the phasing out of fossil fuels was seen as a means to stop financing Russia’s war in the heart of Europe and move towards an immediate green transition.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly emphasized that this year’s global emissions are expected to reach a historic maximum despite the Paris Agreement, which seeks to mitigate climate change.

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), fossil fuels are responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The time for talking about loss and damage finance is over,” Guterres said at the COP27. “We need action.”

Solutions lie within the technological revolution toward the decarbonization of the economy, which requires political support, funding, and implementation within countries’ legislation.

Fourth industrial revolution: path to decarbonization

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Economic Commission for Western Asia (ECWA) have explored the possibilities for achieving carbon neutrality in the world’s energy-intensive sectors to avoid a climate crisis.

The joint report says energy-intensive sectors account for 25% of total CO2 emissions, with cement, iron and steel, and chemicals and petrochemicals industries as the “most significant industrial CO2 emitters.”

For example, cement is the second-most consumed material in the world after water. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global demand for cement is projected to increase by 12-23% by 2050. Because the cement industry is responsible for nearly 7% of global emissions, industrial greenhouse gas emissions will increase significantly if this sphere is not decarbonized.

For this reason, the European Green Deal and other initiatives to achieve carbon neutrality must include investment in real technological solutions and coherence across industry, legislation, economy, science, and technology.

Climate neutrality: from theory to practice

Energy-intensive sectors of the economy require the adoption of clean, fossil-free technological processes, a transition to the circular economy, and the total modernization of infrastructure to make them competitive and create “green” jobs.

Some experts cite the following technological solutions to achieve carbon neutrality:

  • Energy efficiency may be achieved by replacing obsolete equipment, installing heating control systems, and utilizing waste heat in line with best practices as per UNECE.
  • The replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy and the electrification of heating.
  • The use of carbon-neutral green hydrogen as fuel in furnaces or as a reagent in industrial chemical processes.
  • The implementation of circularity as a product design principle, integrating reuse and recycle materials throughout the value chain.
  • The use of biomass as fuel and feedstock – charcoal or biogas could replace traditional fossil fuels in industrial processes to achieve carbon neutrality.
  • Carbon capture and utilization technologies (CCU) offer potential solutions – most of which are in their early stages of development and not commercially viable yet – to turn CO2 into something useful, e.g., methanol. Today’s carbon capture technologies, which were long promoted by the fossil fuel industry and have so far failed to mitigate climate change, remain controversial among experts.

Some of these technological solutions are still in their early stages of adoption and are expensive, meaning political support and funding are needed to commercialize these technologies.

This is even more critical as fossil fuel lobbyists have significant leverage over political elites, thereby holding us hostage by antiquated technologies that damage the environment and deepen the climate crisis.

The fossil fuel lobbyists and CEOs of BP, Shell, Total, and Occidental were keen to show their green credentials at the COP27 for a reason – the green energy transition has gained unstoppable momentum and represents a clear threat to their operations.

Political support for green solutions will shape the future

The UNECE report provides a roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality in the production of materials such as concrete, steel, and chemical industrial products by 2050.

To transform these roadmaps into reality, we need collective action now – only this will help mitigate the effects of global warming.

For example, technological solutions for producing “green steel,” such as direct reduced iron (DRI) and electric arc furnace (EAF), are working successfully but require a massive scaling up. The production of “green steel” using these methods produces much less CO2 than conventional methods, but the latter methods are much more widespread.

Several governments have already kick-started the process of supporting green initiatives – the U.K. has proposed a long-term 250 million pounds ($302 million) Clean Steal Fund, for one. As per the Energy and Climate Intelligence unit, 23 hydrogen steel projects are in the works or underway throughout Europe, including efforts to produce lots of green steel by next year. The steel industry in the EU said it intends to decrease emissions by 30% by 2030.

Ukraine must declare its ambitions and live up to them

Ukraine was not mentioned in the report, and this is precisely what must change. Ukraine’s post-war recovery is a promising platform for investments into technological solutions that are part of the fourth industrial revolution.

To this end, 70 members of the interparliamentary “United for Ukraine” network issued a joint statement: “A sustainable future for Ukraine – the new Marshall Plan.” Among those who backed the statement are members of Ukraine’s parliament, members of the European Parliament, former heads of European nations, and experts.

The joint statement outlines the key steps for the green post-war recovery of Ukraine: rebuilding industry as a driver of the economy and replacing Russian fossil fuels with Ukrainian green energy.

In an address to the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Nov. 17, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine could replace Russian fossil fuels with clean energy due to the country’s potential in renewables.

Ukraine has also become a vital partner of the European Union regarding the implementation of the European Green Deal.

Transitioning to a low-carbon circular economy will create a wave of green jobs. Economic incentives can be created to support this initiative through investments from the EU Innovation Fund, national governments, and the private sector.

To achieve this, new policies and regulatory frameworks allowing the commercialization of new technological solutions must be developed. Ukraine should also become a partner for the implementation of the European Green Deal as part of EU integration.

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