Ukraine ‘using Russia conflict as excuse for climate inaction’

Kiev says it will only revise pledge on restoration of annexed Crimea, as it sets 2030 target paving way for emissions hike

Pro-Russian protesters remove a Ukrainian flag and replace it with a Russian flag in front of the Donetsk Oblast Regional State Administration building in March 2014 (credit: wikimedia commons)

Pro-Russian protesters remove a Ukrainian flag and replace it with a Russian flag in front of the Donetsk Oblast Regional State Administration building in March 2014 (credit: wikimedia commons)

By Alex Pashley

Ukraine is using conflict with Russian-backed rebels to justify lacklustre climate proposals, according to campaigners.

The eastern European country pledged on Wednesday to cut emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 in its contribution to a UN climate pact.

That is a de-facto rise of more than 40% on 2012 levels of 402 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent, as the country’s emissions plummeted with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Running to five pages, the climate plan included little detail on policies to back up the target.

The Poroshenko government said it would revise the pledge “after the restoration of its territorial integrity and state sovereignty”.

National pledges form the basis of a climate agreement set to be signed off by 195 countries in Paris in December.

Russia absorbed Crimea after a plebiscite in March 2014, with sporadic conflict with pro-Kremlin rebels in the East occurring until this month’s ceasefire.

Cement and steel were needed to rebuild railways and oil pipelines destroyed by fighting which had hit 20% of its “economic potential”, the communication read. Unrest in the industrial heartland Donbas region in the East has put power stations and coal mines out of action.


Iryna Stavchuk, climate change director at the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), an NGO, said the government was using the conflict as a way to justify weak policies comparable to those tabled by lesser developed countries.

“We think it is an excuse. War is war, but actually to reduce dependency on Russia we think Ukraine desperately needs energy efficiency and development of renewables to reform it quickly,” she told Climate Home from Kiev.

More than half of the country’s energy supply comes from its uranium and coal resources, while natural gas plays an important role. Last year, Ukraine sourced over half its gas in Russian imports, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

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A clause to review the pledge on Russia’s relinquishing of Crimea was “just a way to show Ukraine understands that the target is not ambitious,” said Stavchuk, adding the plan already counted the annexed region.

Lacking capacity and resources, Ukraine received support from UNDP, USAID and EU-led programme Clima East in drafting its “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC) from April to August.

An earlier draft country energy strategy for 2035, helped by USAID, indicated it could achieve a far greater emissions cut than proposed, at 65% below 1990 levels.

The bodies came up with proposals for how the country, which is three-times more energy-intensive than the EU average, could cut carbon.

Major shock

Those recommendations were dropped from the final UNDP-led document, a source close to the drafting told Climate Home, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the changes.

“It was a major shock to see a document with 25 pages of argumentation used in a systematically misleading way,” the source said. Germany had provided €200,000 of support for the process.

NECU has accused the UNDP of putting a “misleading, politically biased” set of proposals before the government, of which the option with least efforts was approved.

A UNDP spokesperson said in an email that the agency’s contribution to the INDC development was “one of support, not advice or direction”.

“The final outcome is very much owned and managed by the Government.”

Ukraine’s hryvnia sunk to a five-year low in February as the government devalued the currency to stave off default. A slumped economy means businesses aren’t sizing up investments but fighting for survival.

For now, a treaty with the EU that obliges Ukraine to make energy efficiency reforms was the singular positive policy in a country lacking a climate plan.

And that may take some time longer to emerge, if Kiev sticks to its demand for the return of Crimea.

“When they use that as an argument, this is obviously a good way of highlighting how big the trouble is,” said the source. “It is all very sad.”

This artcle was updated to add UNDP statement

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