Russia’s war on Ukraine generates more emissions than 175 countries: $32 billion climate bill looms

The first two years of Russia’s invasion resulted in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 175 individual countries, further intensifying the global climate emergency.

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The dual crises of humanitarian and environmental destruction caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine have brought unprecedented challenges. The conflict has not only led to a tragic loss of life and widespread displacement, but also significantly exacerbated the global climate crisis. Recent research reveals that the first two years of Russia’s invasion resulted in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 175 individual countries, further intensifying the global climate emergency.

The comprehensive analysis, conducted by the Initiative on Greenhouse Gas Accounting of War (IGGAW), highlights the extensive environmental damage inflicted by the war. The findings show that the conflict has generated at least 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e), primarily from direct warfare, landscape fires, rerouted flights, forced migration, and leaks caused by military attacks on fossil fuel infrastructure.

Military activity has been a significant contributor to these emissions. Fuel used by Russian troops accounted for 35 million tCO2e, making it the single largest source of greenhouse gases in this context. Additionally, the manufacturing of carbon-intensive explosives, ammunition, and defense walls along the frontlines by both countries has further contributed to the high emission levels.

The widespread destruction of homes, schools, bridges, factories, and water plants has resulted in substantial emissions. The reconstruction of this damaged and destroyed infrastructure will require vast quantities of steel and concrete, adding to the carbon footprint. The scale of the carbon impact will depend on whether traditional, carbon-intensive materials or more sustainable methods are used in the rebuilding process.

Landscape fires have also significantly contributed to the emissions. The research identified that 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of fields and forests have burned due to military actions, accounting for 13% of the total carbon cost. These fires have increased in size and intensity on both sides of the border, with the redeployment of firefighting resources exacerbating the situation.

Attacks on energy infrastructure have generated major leaks of potent greenhouse gases. The destruction of the Nord Stream 2 pipelines, for example, resulted in the release of methane equivalent to 14 million tCO2e. Furthermore, around 40 tonnes of SF6, a greenhouse gas with nearly 23,000 times more heating potential than carbon dioxide, leaked into the atmosphere due to strikes on Ukraine’s high-voltage network facilities.

The forced migration of millions of Ukrainians and Russians has also contributed to the emissions. The transport-related emissions from more than 5 million Ukrainians seeking refuge in Europe, as well as millions of internally displaced people and Russians fleeing their country, have generated almost 3.3 million tCO2e.

The emissions generated by the conflict have had a significant impact on the global climate. The 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent released during the first two years of the war is on par with running 90 million petrol cars for an entire year. This figure exceeds the total emissions generated individually by countries like the Netherlands, Venezuela, and Kuwait in 2022.

Economically, the climate reparations bill for Russia’s actions is estimated to be $32 billion for the first two years of the war. This estimate is based on a peer-reviewed study that calculated the social cost of carbon as $185 for every ton of greenhouse gas emissions. The UN General Assembly has stated that Russia should compensate Ukraine for the war, and frozen Russian assets could be used to settle these costs.

Climate experts emphasize the need for international agreements to account for military emissions. Currently, reporting on military emissions is voluntary, and only four countries submit incomplete data to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The global military carbon footprint, even without factoring in conflict-related emission surges, is larger than that of all countries except the US, China, and India.

“The new monetary estimate of climate damage highlights the important role of greenhouse gas emissions accounting for conflicts,” said Linsey Cottrell, Conflict and Environment Observatory environmental policy officer. “We critically need international agreement on how conflict and military emissions are measured and addressed.”

The reconstruction of Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure presents an opportunity to adopt sustainable building practices. Using modern, eco-friendly materials and techniques can reduce the carbon footprint of rebuilding efforts. Sustainable reconstruction not only benefits the environment but also supports the local economy and promotes long-term resilience.

“The new monetary estimate of climate damage highlights the important role of greenhouse gas emissions accounting for conflicts,” said Linsey Cottrell, Conflict and Environment Observatory environmental policy officer. “We critically need international agreement on how conflict and military emissions are measured and addressed.”

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