Seeking to demonstrate the devastating effects of the war, but also to gain support for a sustainable revival of the country, Ukraine had its first United Nations climate conference pavilion at COP27. This could be a sign of big things to come for a country whose capital was under siege half a year ago.
This week, the world’s largest climate conference kicked off. It’s the 27th edition of the Conference of Parties (COP27), the same party that brought us the Paris Climate Agreement and where, hopefully, the world will start taking coordinated and decisive action against climate. Virtually all the planet’s countries are sending a delegation, though only some countries have pavilions.
Of course, Ukraine could be well excused for the moment for not taking any climate action. But Ukraine’s leadership seems determined to make this a turning point and turn the country towards renewable energy and sustainability as quickly as possible.
Ukraine at COP27
The pavilion is divided into two main blocks: the consequences of the war on the climate and the vision of the future of Ukraine, as a leading country for climate action. At its center, it has an installation in the form of a shell funnel. Inside the funnel, there are 500 cubes created with recycled plastic and filled with different types of Ukrainian soil.
“Our task is to tell the world about Ukraine’s commitment to climate goals, and aspirations for development, as well as to reveal Russia’s climate crimes and their global consequences,” Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets said in a statement. “It’s important for Ukraine to receive financial support to implement its climate targets.”
As well as government officials, Ukrainian companies are also at COP27 as part of the country’s delegation. This is the case of Maxim Timchenko, the CEO of DTEK, the largest private investor in the energy industry in Ukraine. The company is expecting Ukraine to play a leading role as part of Europe’s energy transition, following the war.
“We are prepared for the renewable energy of the future, focused on solar, wind and hydrogen generation. Our ability to set up the first Ukrainian pavilion during a time of war is clear evidence of how closely the Ukrainian government and business sectors are working together to build a totally new energy sector,” the CEO told us.
The agenda of Ukraine’s pavilion includes various activities across the two weeks of the conference. Most of the talks refer to the impact of the war on European climate policies and the way forward, discussing how can Ukraine rebuild itself while tackling climate change at the same time. Other talks also refer to the country’s agriculture, going through challenges ahead. Ukraine is a major breadbasket in the region, and Russia’s invasion has disrupted food production and global distribution chains, potentially triggering a widespread food crisis, not just in Ukraine, but also elsewhere on the planet.
Climate action and Ukraine’s war
A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said Ukraine needs a “sustainable, climate, and nature-positive reconstruction” to ensure long-term security. The report estimated over 280,000 hectares of forest has been destroyed because of the world, with six million people without access to clean water.
Rémi Duflot, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine, said Ukraine’s involvement in the climate talks will help for its “green revival,” while says Christophoros Politis, UN representative in Ukraine, said the pavilion shows “climate justice remains at the core of Ukraine’s government plan for sustainability and recovery.”
In a video statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the United Nations that a fast-heating world can’t “afford a single gunshot,” arguing that Russia’s invasion threatened international efforts to tackle the climate crisis. He described the environmental consequences of the war, from a larger use of coal to the disruption of grain supplies.
Many of the other presidents and ministers that traveled to the climate summit in Egypt also referred to the war and its effects on climate action and the economy. When opening the conference, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Egypt “is ready to work to stop the war” and asked to end “the destruction and killing” so far seen in Ukraine.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who wasn’t initially expected to travel but finally did, said Russia’s “abhorrent” war in Ukraine and the rising energy prices around the world aren’t a reason to slow climate action. Instead, countries should act faster, Sunak said, claiming there’s still room for hope to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. That may be true, but the window is closing very fast.