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How Ukraine will affect our climate

Greta Thunberg campaigning in Germany. Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty

For many green activists, says The Economist, the abandoned hamlet of Lutzerath in Germany “symbolises the nightmare of the global energy crisis”. The site was earmarked for demolition so that a utility firm could mine for coal beneath its “graffitied houses”. Campaigners, including Greta Thunberg, blocked access to it for months before police dragged them away and the giant excavator rolled in. Many felt this reflected the bigger picture: “in their panic to keep the lights on”, policymakers across Europe and Asia have reopened coal mines, kept polluting power plants running and increased imports of liquefied natural gas. Is the global fight against climate change, like Ukraine, a victim of Vladimir Putin’s warmongering?

In fact, the opposite is true. While the world is indeed burning more coal, the high cost and scarcity of fossil fuels have turbocharged investment in renewable power. Last year alone, there was a 50% global rise in the installation of rooftop solar panels, and a 35% increase in new onshore wind projects. Overall, global spending on wind and solar assets jumped from $357bn to $490bn, “surpassing investment in new and existing oil and gas wells for the first time”. This is only the start. Boosted by vast subsidy programmes, global renewable energy capacity is expected to rise by 2,400 gigawatts between 2022 and 2027 – the equivalent of “China’s entire installed power capacity today”, and almost 30% more than pre-war predictions. In effect, the Ukraine war has “fast-tracked the green transition by an astonishing five to 10 years”. And that, of course, will mean carbon dioxide emissions falling “considerably faster than expected just 12 months ago”.