This essay featured in the March 2022 edition of The B Team's monthly newsletter. Subscribe to receive leadership insights, advocacy opportunities and conversations between business and civil society leaders exploring a better way of doing business for people and planet.
Russia’s unprovoked war is now in its sixth week. Thousands have been killed. The number of Ukrainian citizens forced to flee now exceeds four million.
“Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an address to the US Congress on March 16th. “It went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country, choosing our own future, against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams. Just like the same dreams you have.”
A renewal of peace talks began in Turkey this week, prompting hope from some and skepticism from others. Airstrikes continued on cities like Chernihiv, in Ukraine’s north, despite Russian claims of scaling back its military operations. War endures, with its insane and unnecessary suffering.
A paradigm shift is upon us.
What we are seeing unfold in Ukraine is a catastrophe propped up by old power and an old leadership playbook. And it’s inextricably linked to the root cause of climate change: our dangerous reliance on fossil fuels. “The atrocities in Ukraine have been financed by our addiction to oil and gas,” B Team leader Christiana Figueres put it plainly. World leaders are witnessing the human consequences of energy dependence on an autocracy.
“Let this be the last war in which we and our allies fund both sides,” pleaded New York Times commentator Tom Friedman in his Tuesday column.
Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis is grave; the impacts of climate change will render refugee outflows on an exponentially greater scale. Failure to take urgent, ambitious and collective action in this decade will contribute to millions of deaths worldwide and the displacement of more than one billion people by 2050.
“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity,” Albert Einstein once said. We must seek hope in this moment while relentlessly pressing governments and industry actors to go all in for climate action. “We need to take this and go, absolutely, for clean energy,” affirmed B Team leader Mary Robinson in a recent interview.
There are encouraging signs. On March 25th, the United States and European Commission announced a new task force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The EU plans to cut demand for Russian gas by two-thirds by year’s end. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us. We need to act now to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices, diversify our gas supply for next winter and accelerate the clean energy transition.”
There’s an even bigger picture to which we must not be blind. The war-induced energy crisis is also fast becoming a food crisis. African and Middle East countries depend on Ukraine and Russia for a majority of their wheat imports. Fertilizer prices are surging, threatening farmers and agricultural productivity. As David Beasley, head of the World Food Programme, warned the UN Security Council: we are facing a “catastrophe on top of a catastrophe.” Egypt’s economy in particular is reeling, which could challenge its COP27 presidency.
Africa is already contending with Covid-19 recovery, continued vaccine inequity and some of the world’s worst climate impacts. Following years of broken Western promises on climate funding, how much more turbulence can its leaders and civil society weather?
It feels to me our only certainty these days is instability. The new normal is unthinkable events, one after another.
But this belief gives me great hope: the best choice we can make to steady an unstable world is to quadruple down on a just energy transition to a carbon-free future. We need to bounce forward from despair toward the hopeful vision we share.
Peace and justice for Ukraine. A sustainable future for all.