What the war in Ukraine means for Asia’s climate goals

NEW DELHI – Queues at petrol pumps in Sri Lanka have decreased, but not anxiety.

Asanka Sampath, a 43-year-old factory worker, is always on her toes. She checks her phone for messages, walks past the pump and scrolls through social media to see if the fuel has arrived. Delays could mean being stranded for days.

“I’m really sick of this,” he said.

Their frustrations echo those of the island nation’s 22 million people, faces the worst economic crisis in its history due to heavy debts, loss of tourism revenue during the pandemic, and rising costs. the consequent political turmoil culminated with the formation of a new governmentBut the recovery has been complicated by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the resulting reversal of global energy markets.

of Europe need for gasoline it means they are competing with Asian countries, driving up fossil fuel prices and resulting in what Tim Buckley, the director of the think tank Climate Energy Finance, refers to as “hyperinflation…and I use that word as a euphemism.” .”

Most Asian countries prioritize energy security, sometimes above their climate goals. For rich countries like South Korea or Japan, this means forays into nuclear power. For the huge energy needs of China and India, it means relying on dirty coal power in the short term. But for developing countries with already strained finances, the war is having a disproportionate impact, said Kanika Chawla of the United Nations sustainable energy unit.

How Asian countries choose to move forward would have cascading consequences: They could double down on clean energy or decide not to phase out fossil fuels right away.

“We are at a really important crossroads,” Chawla said.


Sri Lanka is an extreme example of the situation facing poor nations. Huge debts prevent it from buying power on credit, forcing it to ration fuel for key sectors with shortages expected next year.

Sri Lanka has set a goal of getting 70% of all its energy from renewables by 2030 and aims to reach net zero, balancing the amount of greenhouse gases they emit with the amount they remove from the atmosphere, to 2050.

Its twin needs to secure energy and reduce costs mean it “has no choice” but to stop using fossil fuels, said Aruna Kulatunga, author of a government report for Sri Lanka’s clean energy targets. But others, like Murtaza Jafferjee, director of the Advocata Institute think tank, say these goals are more “aspirational than realistic” because the current power grid cannot handle renewable energy.

“It’s going to be a slow grind,” Jafferjee said.

Grids powered by renewable energy need to be more agile because, unlike fossil fuels, power from the wind or sun fluctuates, which can stress transmission networks.

The economic crisis has decreased the demand for energy in Sri Lanka. So while there are still power outages, the country’s existing sources — coal and oil plants, hydropower, and some solar power — are coping.


How these two nations meet this demand will have global ramifications.

And the answer, at least in the short term, appears to be reliance on dirty coal for energy, a key source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions.

China, currently the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, aims to reach net zero by 2060, which requires a significant reduction in emissions.

But since the war, China has not only imported more fossil fuels from Russia, it has also increased its own coal production. The war, combined with a severe drought and a domestic energy crisis means the country is prioritizing keeping the lights on over cutting off sources of dirty fuel.

India aims to reach net zero a decade later than China and ranks third in the list of current global emitters, although its historical emissions are very low. No other country will see a greater increase in energy demand than India in the coming years, with the nation estimated to need $223 billion to meet its clean energy goals by 2030. Like China, India seeks to increase production of coal to reduce reliance on expensive imports and is still in the Russian oil market despite calls for sanctions.

But the size of future demand also means that no country has a choice but to boost its clean energy as well.

China is leading the way in renewable energy and moving away from reliance on fossil fuels, said Buckley, who follows the country’s energy policy.

“It could be because they’re paranoid about climate change or they want to absolutely dominate the industries of the future,” Buckley said. “At the end of the day, the reason doesn’t really matter.”

India is also investing heavily in renewable energy and has committed to producing 50% of its energy from clean energy sources by 2030.

“The invasion has caused India to reconsider its energy security concerns,” said Swati D’Souza of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

More domestic production does not mean that the two countries are burning more coal, but rather that they substitute expensive imported coal with cheap local energy, said Christoph Bertram of the Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam. What was “crucial” to global climate goals was where future investments went.

“The flip side of investing in coal means you invest less in renewable energy,” he said.


Both Japan and South Korea, two of Asia’s most developed countries, are pushing nuclear power following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions against Russian imports of coal and gas prompted Japan to seek alternative energy sources despite anti-nuclear sentiments dating back to the Fukushima disaster in 2011. A summer earlier than expected resulted in power shortageand the government announced plans to speed up regulatory safety checks to bring more reactors online.

Japan intends to limit nuclear power to less than a quarter of its energy mix, a goal that is considered too optimistic, but the recent push indicates that nuclear energy can play a more important role in the country.

Neighboring South Korea has seen no short-term impacts on energy supply as it gets its gas from countries like Qatar and Australia and its oil from the Middle East. But there may be an indirect impact of European efforts to secure energy from those same sources, driving up prices.

Like Japan, South Korea’s new government has promoted nuclear-generated electricity and has been reluctant to slash the country’s reliance on coal and gas as it wants to boost the economy.

“If this war continues… obviously we will be faced with the question of what should be done with the rising costs,” said Ahn Jaehun of the Korean Federation for the Environment Movement.


The war and the resulting increase in gasoline prices forced Indonesia to reduce rising subsidies aimed at keeping fuel prices and some electricity tariffs under control.

But this was “very rushed reform” and does not address the challenge of moving the world’s largest coal exporter away from fossil fuels and reaching its goal of net zero by 2060, Anissa said. R. Suharsono of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

“We’re going back to just fighting fires,” he said.

Coal exports have increased almost 1.5 times between April and June, compared to 2021, in response to European demand and Indonesia has already produced more than 80% of the total coal it produced last year, according to government data.

The country needs to nearly triple its investment in clean energy by 2030 to achieve net zero by 2060, according to the International Energy Agency, but Suharsono said it was unclear how it would meet those goals.

“Currently there are no general regulations or a clear roadmap,” he said.


Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Japan, Tong-hyung Kim and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.


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