Ukrainians Call For Fossil Fuel Transition, Not Expansion

This op-ed first appeared in the International Business Times

By Svitlana Romanko  AND Pallavi Phartiyal 

Ukraine is on the frontlines of a devastating war exacerbated by fossil fuels. A number of Ukrainians are demanding the ban of Russian fossil fuels and rejection of any trade, investment, financing and insuring of any Russian fossil fuel company — and support the rapid phase out of all fossil fuels everywhere — as a root cause of this conflict. This demand is backed by a coalition of 45 Ukrainian organizations and supported by over 800 organizations from more than 60 countries, including frontline communities who face fossil fuel expansion purportedly due to the Ukraine conflict.

Dependence on fossil fuels drives violence and instability, with Russia’s invasion being a current high-profile example. More than 14.5 million Ukrainians fled their homes, while tens of thousands of civilians were killed. Atrocities uncovered in territories that were under Russian occupation have the characteristics of a genocide. Infrastructure damages are enormous. Thousands of hectares of ecosystems have already been destroyed.

Shutting off the spigot of cash to Russia’s war machine is difficult. But this moment of system shock provides a historic opportunity to accelerate our global transition away from fossil fuels, rather than rely on dirty energy companies to lock us into decades of further suffering. Fossil fuel expansion, which will not be built fast enough to help Ukraine yet, will intensify climate chaos.

It is past time for fossil fuel transition.

Banks like JPMorgan Chase tepidly agree, with goals like net-zero emissions by 2050 as part of their membership in the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). Yet, the bank remains the top fossil fuel banker in the world, backing the fast-tracking of fossil fuel expansion (ostensibly to help Ukraine) and financing Russian state energy giants like Gazprom. Chase should drop Russian companies instead of playing both sides. They should validate their place in GFANZ by setting ambitious, near-term targets to reduce their support to the fossil fuel industry, globally.

According to the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the majority of the planet’s climate scientists, there is no room left in our collective carbon budget for any further fossil fuel expansion. If we are to have any hope of keeping global warming at 1.5 Co or a livable climate, fossil fuel use must decline, not expand. The war in Ukraine does not compel us to ignore this emergency as lives are at stake on both ends of the supply chain.

The global south bears the brunt of climate crisis and exploitative violence because of fossil fuels, though it did little to create either. Dramatically shifting financing to renewable energies that could be online quicker than new fossil fuel projects would protect global populations. It would especially protect people in frontline communities from war, pollution, and bad investments that lock us into fossil fuel dependence.

For example, in Mozambique, TotalEnergies announced they’ll resume their LNG project in the Cabo Delgado region; it was paused after armed groups killed dozens of the gas company’s workers. The vast majority of this fuel would be exported and wouldn’t address domestic energy needs in the country. The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that thousands of families are still fleeing the region’s violence. People displaced by the project have also become refugees. Attempts to deliver aid are hampered by tropical storms supercharged by the climate crisis. According to Friends of the Earth Mozambique, this project is destroying their environment, dashing any hopes for peace, and is being pushed through in the name of Ukraine. Chase directly funded this project in 2020, and currently is financing millions for TotalEnergies.

In the U.S. Gulf Coast, including Lake Charles and Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, and Port Arthur, Texas, Chase is backing massive LNG expansion projects. The Gulf Coast is the worst hotspot in the United States for cancer-causing air – home to the famous “Cancer Alley.” It’s no coincidence that the highest rates of illness are in Black neighborhoods. This environmental racism is being fought back against by heroic groups like Healthy Gulf and Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The last thing they need are LNG facilities where methane leakage is a regular occurrence.

In the Philippines, the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) recently released “Financing a Fossil Future: Tracing the Money Pipeline of Fossil Gas in Southeast Asia” (SEA) pushing back against the massive fleet of fossil fuel projects backed by financiers. The director of CEED cites the Ukraine-Russia crisis as a key example of the instability of addiction to fossil fuels. Volatile power supply and prices subject to geopolitical shocks on top of an already catastrophic climate crisis is contrary to the development that SEA nations are seeking, and communities and civic movements are pushing back. People in the Philippines and Southeast Asia deserve a better future than being locked into fossil gas infrastructure for decades, long after the current crisis has passed.

There is one common denominator in these fights: every fossil fuel problem named here is backed by JPMorgan Chase. Banks must rise up and end their enablement of fossil fuel violence.

Ukrainians know that all are equal and everyone can benefit from clear commitments to fossil fuel transition. Banks should start acting like they know this, too.

We need to move to protect people via secure, stable, and sovereign renewable energy. We are valiantly fighting for our lives and livelihoods against fossil fuels and their expansion. We have the solutions, we now have the willpower, we can and must move faster because the sooner we replace oil, gas and coal with cheap, safe renewable energy, the sooner we can all live in peace.

Svitlana Romanko is an Environmental Lawyer and Campaigner at Stand With Ukraine

Pallavi Phartiyal is Deputy Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network