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Will climate change be a casualty of Putin’s war?

By The Editorial Board

Just when it looked like the world was finally coming together to take the climate crisis seriously.

Despite a recent United Nations study warning that without immediate, drastic action our planet is facing a climate disaster—the Russian assault on sovereign Ukraine threatens to set meaningful global warming action back for years.

While nations worldwide, with few exceptions, agreed to implement programs cutting fossil fuel emissions by 2050 and begin employing sustainable, green programs including electric cars, forestation, harnessing wind and tidal power among others,

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s illegal war has altered the equation.

Despite scientific consensus that global warming is directly responsible for rising oceans, increasingly dangerous storms and wildfires that will devastate our planet within decades if no action is taken now—many of those plans are likely to be put on hold.

Stanford University Earth system scientist Rob Jackson, a recognized expert in global greenhouse gas emissions (as reported in the Los Angeles Times) said “The war will distract us from climate action around the world.

Other scientists and policymakers agree that Putin’s aggression will hinder multinational climate cooperation working together to reduce emissions, preserve forests and meeting the goals set only months ago at Scotland’s COP25 climate summit.

At that summit, the United States and the European Union formed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030. Since then, more than110 nations have signed onto the pledge—notably absent are Russia, China, India and Australia.

Ironically, Russia is the current chair in an organization facing climate concerns in the Arctic region, along with northern European countries.

Says Lee Cooper, a professor of environmental science and oceanography at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Sciences, “We (now) have hesitated to contact our Russian colleagues since the invasion because we assume Zoom and Internet exchanges can be monitored.” He worries his Russian members be punished for communicating with Americans.

Up until now, notable progress had been made as the international team, including the Russians, on research collaboration and information sharing in the Arctic, he added.

Within a week after the invasion, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway issued a declaration stating none would attend scheduled meetings in Russia since the country had violated  “core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

So just as the effects of global warning are becoming more threatening, needed actions on international climate efforts are suddenly bleaker than before.

A standard observation regarding all wars is that the first casualty is the truth. In assessing Putin’s war, could our planet be a casualty as well?

Only time will tell.