It almost seems rude to talk about energy and technology on such an incredibly dark and depressing day. But these arguably prosaic questions are at the heart of the shameful and violent catastrophe inflicted on Ukraine by the imperialist brutality of Vladimir Putin.
It was Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and London’s acceptance of the money generated by Europe’s dependence on Russian energy that shaped the peace that has brought us here. It is virtually impossible to imagine that Putin’s army and his allies could have annexed sovereign regions, shot down airliners and poisoned dissidents on foreign soil with so little international hindsight were it not for Russia’s influential position in the economy of fossil fuels. .
Likewise, while a nativist misinterpretation of regional history is the main driver of Russian aggression against Ukraine, the geopolitical context provided by soaring energy prices and the beginning of the net abandonment of reliance on fossil fuels probably brightened the moment.
There is no doubt that oil states feel pressured by global decarbonization agreements and the threat that clean technologies pose to the revenue streams that keep them in power. They can respond to this pressure in two ways (or a combination of both): significantly accelerate the diversification of their economies; or seize and stockpile as much energy as possible before fossil fuel revenues begin to decline. The Kremlin climate-skeptical kleptocrat chose his preferred approach years ago.
And that’s why, like tyrants around the world, Putin’s aggressiveness is more an indication of weakness than strength.
Because, if governments and corporations react rationally to this crisis (admittedly a big if), they will combine an increase in defense capabilities in recognition of an increasingly unstable and dangerous world with an all-out effort to end reliance on fossil fuels and accelerating the implosion of Russia’s extractive economy. Countries that fumbled in the response to the energy crisis of the 1970s and are still paying the price five decades later have had a chance to correct their mistakes.
And fortunately, the technologies are now available to make this transition possible. Amid the harrowing human misery of this week’s news cycle, we reported on a world’s first UK project to produce glass using biofuel rather than fossil gas, plans by Airbus which are moving rapidly to develop a hydrogen-powered airliner, and a wave of highly innovative energy storage projects. Every week, every day brings new evidence of the viability of a fully decarbonized economy.
As Sir John Armitt of the National Infrastructure Commission argued this week, clean energy infrastructure is both technically feasible and economically attractive. Net zero ambitions need to be strengthened, not reduced. They have the potential to turn the understandable debate over whether to increase domestic fossil fuel production into a sideshow of contingency planning and stranded assets.
Such innovations are obviously far removed from the brutal realities of war, but they are not completely detached from it either. Clean technologies are peaceful and patriotic. Putin hates them. As such, they must be deployed at a rate and on a scale totally unprecedented in all of human history. Our climate security, our energy security and our national security depend on it.
This article was first published as part of BusinessGreen’s overnight briefing, which you can subscribe to here.
Want to learn more about the impact of the net zero transition on your business? You can now register to attend the virtual Net Zero Finance Summit, which will take place live and interactively on Tuesday, March 29 and will be available on demand for delegates after the event.