Is Climate change big agenda for Ukraine government?

Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection says they are preparing to open the Climate Office

In Summary
  • According to the latest data from the UNFCCC Secretariat, Ukraine is one of the world leaders in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved.
  • Agriculture, infrastructure, and human health are particularly vulnerable to climate change in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection Ruslan Strilets.
Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection Ruslan Strilets.

As the Africa Climate Summit officially started on (Monday) September 4, delegates from Kenya and different countries gathered at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit, championed by President William Ruto aims to address the increasing exposure to climate change and its associated costs, both globally and particularly in Africa.

With the expectation of escalating climate crises in terms of frequency and intensity, urgent action is required to mitigate these challenges.

The Star held an interview with Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection; Ruslan Strilets

Is Climate Change a big agenda for the government of Ukraine?

Ukraine is facing many challenges today. The first one for us is the security issue. But security is not limited to military issues.

The environment is also about security: the security of growing quality food, drinking clean water, breathing clean air, etc.

We are responsible to ourselves and the world. Of course, climate change is an important issue for the Government of Ukraine.

That is why, despite the war, we continue to implement reforms. And the climate direction is, of course, at the top. We are preparing to open the Climate Office and developing climate legislation.

As a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, its Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, Ukraine has already made and continues to make a significant contribution to the fight against climate change since 1991, when we gained independence.

According to the latest data from the UNFCCC Secretariat, Ukraine is one of the world leaders in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved.

What challenges does Ukraine have as a result of Climate change?

Ukraine is already experiencing climate change.

Over the past two decades, every year in Ukraine has been warmer than the long-term average, and 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record in Europe and Ukraine.

Since 2010, Ukraine has experienced several climate change-related impacts, such as severe droughts, major floods and devastating fires, which have resulted in loss of life, livelihoods and GDP.

Ukraine's main exports are agricultural products, especially grain, as well as iron ore and steel.

Ukraine is also an important transit country for the Eastern European energy market and one of the largest hydrocarbon producers in the region.

All key socio-economic sectors are currently being affected by climate change-related extreme weather events such as heat waves, fires and floods, and many communities are vulnerable to climate change expected in the coming decades.

Agriculture, infrastructure, and human health are particularly vulnerable to climate change in Ukraine.

However, these challenges are exacerbated by the consequences of Russia's armed aggression.

Firstly, it is difficult to deal with these challenges because we do not have access to many areas. 174 thousand square kilometres of our territory are mined.

Secondly, the environment is constantly suffering because of the hostilities.

For example, national parks and reserves have been damaged and destroyed. Askania Nova, the largest steppe reserve in Europe, is our treasure.

Ukraine has managed to create the conditions for African species to take root in Europe. These are the African cow, zebra, and African ostrich.

 Today, Askania Nova is under occupation. We have lost contact with the National Park since March 2023.

We could do more to combat climate change. But the funds that Ukraine and the world could have spent on climate change are now being spent on our defence and protection, on helping people who have lost their homes and health.

What measures has the government of Ukraine put in place to deal with the effects of climate change?

 We are currently actively preparing for the important UN climate summit COP28, which will be held this year in the United Arab Emirates. Together with international partners, we plan to launch a Climate Office in Ukraine.

All post-war reconstruction plans are developed with the "green component" included.

For example, the government has set up an interagency working group to develop a national energy and climate plan. The document should take into account the development of the Ukrainian energy sector using green technologies.

We continue to comply with the Paris Agreement and work to achieve the goals of Ukraine's climate policy until 2030.

Despite the war, we have not stopped working on the implementation of the reform to reduce and control industrial pollution, and in fact on the eco-modernisation of industry.

Ukraine continues to participate in international programmes to support the poorest countries.

We continue the grain supply programme. If the supply stops, the countries most affected by climate change, the so-called Global South, will simply not have food, and thus governments will be even more active in oppressing the population and selling resources.

This will lead to even higher emissions and, as a result, more severe climate change.

This year, the Government of Ukraine approved a plan to reduce methane emissions as part of the Global Methane Pledge initiative.

We are working on changes to climate legislation - we are developing a draft climate framework law that will become the basis for setting long-term national climate goals and low-carbon development of the country.

Ukraine joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in 2020 and highlighted a priority to address short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) in the agriculture, transport, cooling, waste, and energy sectors, including oil and gas and coal mining, what is the progress so far?

Ukraine has been steadily fulfilling its international commitments, and joining the Climate and Clean Air Coalition is no exception.

As noted earlier, Ukraine has joined the Global Methane Pledge, a global initiative to reduce methane emissions, and this year the Government of Ukraine approved the Action Plan for the implementation of Ukraine's climate policy as part of its participation in this initiative.

The document provides for measures to capture methane at household waste landfills; developing the potential for biomethane production from agricultural waste; promotion of separate collection, composting and recycling of biowaste, etc.

Ukraine is currently actively pursuing a state policy to regulate economic activities involving ozone-depleting substances and fluorinated greenhouse gases.

Relevant legislation has been adopted to regulate the management of ozone-depleting substances, fluorinated greenhouse gases, goods and equipment containing or using them, which affects the ozone layer and global warming.

At the same time, to fulfil its obligations as a party to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Ukraine has developed a draft law on ratification of the Amendment to the Montreal Protocol (namely the Kigali Amendment).

The ratification of the Kigali Amendment provides for a phased reduction in the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases.

It is expected that the implementation of this amendment will prevent the emission of 105 million tonnes of CO2, which will help to avoid a global increase in air temperature.

Climate-driven changes such as higher temperatures have been causing shifts in agriculture, has this been the case with Ukraine?

Ukraine is an important exporter of grain, particularly wheat, and other agricultural products to Africa and the rest of the world. The agricultural sector is a significant employer, primarily in the agricultural regions of the southeast.

In the near future, the projected increase in temperatures could increase yields, i.e. extend the growing season for some crops and increase yields in the north.

However, these benefits could be offset if important warming thresholds for certain crops are exceeded.

Throughout the 2010s, agricultural production in Ukraine suffered significant losses in vegetable and grain yields due to low rainfall and severe drought.

Similar crop losses are expected in the future, with serious implications for global food security.

The southern regions of Ukraine have already experienced significant shifts in seasonal precipitation variability, with an increase in total precipitation in winter and a decrease in summer.

More than one-third of Ukraine's agricultural land is already under water stress during hot and dry periods, combined with erosion from floods and wind on bare soil.

According to Ukrainian scientists, the frequency of extreme heat events will increase in the face of warming, which, combined with the increased frequency and intensity of droughts in the south of the country, will have a negative impact on agriculture.

What are the effects of the Russian invasion to Ukraine on Climate Change?

Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine is deepening not only the climate crisis in our country but is also affecting the entire world.

As a result of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the world has moved 120 million tonnes of CO2 away from the Paris Agreement target.

If we convert these emissions into a monetary equivalent, taking into account the cost of one tonne on the European Union's greenhouse gas emissions trading system, we will receive a significant amount of EUR 10.2 billion.

This is half of the capital investment required to completely rebuild the entire system of water management and redistribution in Ukraine over the next 10 years. Ukraine. A country with the largest land area in Europe and the most challenging climate conditions.

This amount is only a small part of the total global climate losses for which the aggressor country must be held accountable.

In the first year of the war in Ukraine alone, the number of fires over 1 hectare on agricultural land increased from 10.8 thousand hectares to 371.7 thousand hectares, a 34-fold increase compared to the previous period.

At the same time, the losses of agricultural products from these fires, with an average yield of 4 tonnes/ha, can be estimated at about 1.5 million tonnes of grain.

Given that the average person consumes 150 kg of grain products per year, this means that the lost grain could have fed about 10 million people for a year.

In addition to the losses from the fires, we have 174,000 square kilometres of mined territory, which is approximately the size of Tunisia (163,000 square kilometres), and includes agricultural land that has been put out of production for some time.

And what does the environmental disaster caused by Russia at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station mean?

As a result of the explosion of the Kakhovka dam, irrigation systems on 5,800 square kilometres of farmland, which grew about 2 million tonnes of grain a year, were left without water sources.

This is 70 per cent of the amount of grain exported by Ukraine to Africa in 2022.

What are the environmental impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

War is as much a challenge for the environment as it is for each of us.

When we respect the environment and take care of it, nature repays us with fruitful years, predictable weather, sufficient rainfall, etc.

Neglecting it, and turning forests into parking lots for military equipment and fertile land into ammunition storage facilities will not have good consequences.

Nature is suffering and will definitely tell about its suffering in the form of droughts, rising temperatures, reduced precipitation, or vice versa, excessive rainfall, floods, etc.

The losses for the Ukrainian environment are enormous. The total amount of damage reaches USD 56 billion.

Ukraine is losing the gems of its environment. Did you know that Europe's largest desert, the Oleshky Sands, is located in Ukraine? Now these territories are occupied, and it is not known whether it will be possible to preserve all the biodiversity of that region.

The largest steppe reserve in Europe, Askania Nova, was home to zebras, camels, and bison. About 1,000 dolphins died in the Black Sea. All this is being destroyed by the occupiers.

We must understand that polluted air has no boundaries. Air emissions caused by Russia's military aggression on the territory of Ukraine are transported, settled and affect the territories of other states, sometimes at a distance of thousands of kilometres.

As a result of Russia's attack, 20 per cent of Ukraine's protected areas were affected.

In addition, almost a third of Ukrainian forests have been affected by Russian aggression. About 3 million hectares have been dug up or burned.

But despite all this, Ukraine has not abandoned its ambitious goals and international commitments for a single day. And every day we are one step closer to victory.

On the Africa Climate Summit 2023, what is your country bringing to the table?

It is important to have a direct dialogue with the countries of the African continent. It is difficult to develop relations in the absence of this kind of communication.

At the African Climate Summit, we aim to highlight the common environmental problems of Ukraine and the African continent, including the impact of war on climate change.

And to show the similarity of the climate change consequences faced by the African continent and Ukraine in the context of the Russian war.

Such as desertification, loss of water and forest resources, biodiversity loss, and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

We understand the threats and challenges for the African continent. We are ready to work to combat the consequences of climate change such as the food crisis.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his speech to the G20 last year, presented the Peace Formula, which is an important platform not only for a just end to the war launched by Russia against Ukraine but also for a universal basis for ending other military conflicts on the planet and overcoming global challenges.

It consists of ten complementary points. Clause 8 of the Formula - "Ecological safety" - will help solve the environmental problems faced by the civilised world and protect the environment from ecocide.

The aggressor must compensate the entire world for the losses, and Africa has the right to do so.

What is the key message from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during this summit?

A Peace Formula. This is a step-by-step, effective plan to achieve peace. We encourage supporters to join in.

The grain deal. Ukraine has not violated or withdrawn from the grain deal. We are ready to help and fulfil our obligations.

The implementation of these points requires the joint work of the international community. The African continent can play a very important role.

The key message is to present the Peace Formula of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and to call on the African continent to join this initiative.

What kind of cooperation is your country seeking to pursue with Africa and Kenya in particular as far as Climate Change is concerned?

Africa and Ukraine have a high potential for developing cooperation in many areas. After all, combating climate change is the responsibility of many ministries and other relevant agencies.

As the Minister of Environmental Protection, I would like to note your success in organising and operating national parks.

We are also working to develop our nature reserve fund. I think that the exchange of experience will be useful for both countries.

In general, Africa and Ukraine have a similar problem - geographical location. For you, it is the peculiarities of access to water, the impact of high temperatures, and the impact of climate change.

For us, it is the threat from Russia. Neither you nor we can influence the change in our geography. But both you and we can do a lot to minimise or eliminate these risks.

Unfortunately, the actions of Russia will have consequences for the whole world. This applies to security, food and climate. We know that food and climate are important to you.

It is your well-being, your cultural heritage. We must work together to minimise this damage. Join President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Ukrainian Peace Formula to tackle global challenges together.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star