“Russia benefits both from changing the climate and from a changed climate”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the geopolitical situation and the global playing field. Our dependence on fossil intermediate goods and commodities is clear and affects the multilateral cooperation on issues relating to climate and the environment. More knowledge and insight are necessary to deal with the significant challenges that relate to the climate, security, energy and resources, according to a panel of experts at one of Mistra’s seminars at Almedalen.
The Mistra Geopolitics research programme investigates the links between geopolitics, security, and global environmental and climate change. Deputy Programme Director Henrik Carlsen says that the current situation is troubling and very complex; to manage crises simultaneously, we need to understand crises simultaneously.
“If we look back on Russian strategy over the past ten years, it is increasingly clear that environmental and climate change is integrated in a comprehensive Russian idea about how the world should be. A new Russian climate plan was released in January – one of the few I know of. It says that Russia must contribute to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but also that Russia, in the right situation, must capitalise on a changed climate. This is interesting, but thinking about how not every actor is a loser in every scenario is also somewhat frightening,” says Henrik Carlsen.
He highlights how we usually frame discussions about the climate with how we are all sitting in the same boat, but research shows that perhaps not everyone will be negatively affected by a global increase in temperature. For Russia, this could primarily be increased agricultural yields and large areas of land being able to be utilised in the future, as well as shortening the northeast passage.
“It may be the case that Russia benefits both from changing the climate and from a changed climate. Some nations seeing themselves as winners adds complexity and difficulty. When we look at Russia, this filters through in some strategic texts,” says Henrik Carlsen.
The Vice-Chancellor of the Swedish Defence University, Robert Egnell, is a member of Mistra Geopolitics’ board. He does not believe that we understand the challenges we face, and that more insight and knowledge are necessary for action to be taken.
“As a party pooper and security politician, I can add a few additional crises – radicalisation, terrorism, organised crime, refugee crises and a financial crisis that is about to happen. In addition to the situation in Ukraine and the climate and environmental crisis that we are discussing here, we have a huge amount to deal with.”
These are all global challenges which, in Egnell’s opinion, must be dealt with through global cooperation. The crisis in security policy that is now occurring is instead leading to the opposite – Cold War 2.0 – and resulting in isolation and polarisation. This hinders our chances of dealing with the major crisis of our time – the climate crisis – he says. We therefore now need to think in the short and the long term, where measures must be implemented that weaken Russia, but we also need Russia when dealing with these challenges.
Henrik Carlsen finds the boycott of Russia in multinational scientific climate and environment partnerships deeply unfortunate, drawing parallels with the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the tense geopolitical situation at the time, but where environmental discussions still formed a bridge to collective action. Some issues thus need to be decoupled to be dealt with.
“I am delighted to be on the board of Mistra Geopolitics, that genuinely brings together two areas that have traditionally not worked together. The research school has produced a new type of researcher – hybrids who really thrive in this encounter, which is absolutely necessary to see its breadth. It is only when we see the connections that we can separate the issues and the diplomatic challenges,” says Egnell.
The current situation with the Russian invasion of Ukraine is also affecting global energy provision. Filip Johnsson, Programme Director for the Mistra Electrification research programme, sees electrification as an important element for solving the climate problem. Globally, he sees beneficial conditions and an incredible expansion of renewable energy. The problem is that the proportion of the world’s primary energy use since the start of the 21st century has constantly been above 80 per cent fossil.
“We have succeeded in introducing renewable energy, but failed to set a price on carbon dioxide. If we link this to Russia and other economies that sell fossil energy, one potential concept is the ‘natural resource curse’ with consequences such as corruption, a lack of democracy, and economic divides,” says Johnsson.
Mistra Electrification investigates how Sweden’s electrification should occur. Filip Johnsson can see both positive and negative indications, the positive being that industry is pushing forward, while the negative is the polarised energy debate in Sweden, positioning wind power against nuclear power. He sees this as a huge challenge.
Markus Wråke is CEO of Energiforsk and on the Government’s Electrification Commission. He states that the EU is reducing its imports of Russian oil and gas, but that China and India’s imports have increased by an almost identical amount.
“They also receive a sizable discount on oil, compared to the global market price. But, because this price has increased considerably, Russia’s income from its exports has probably also increased since the war started,” he says.
For electrification in Europe and globally, Wråke has a positive view of the situation. There is good agreement between the geopolitical agenda in Europe and that of climate policy. He also says that there is a strong driving force in Repower EU for accelerating and tightening up decided climate goals. At the same time, many countries are now wrestling with their economic priorities.
There is also disappointment over Sweden’ actions regarding electrification. Matilda Machacek, Head of Development for Offshore Norden at RWE Renewables, highlights how other countries are increasing their level of ambition and have active governance for a rapid rollout of more renewable energy and self-sufficiency, while Sweden has left it to companies to drive development themselves. RWE Renewables built its first offshore wind park in Sweden a decade ago, but after this nothing has happened, she says.
“I want to see more initiative from Sweden in dealing with this. We hear a great deal from politicians about how much they want, how things should happen quickly and what we should do. But things are very divided up amongst different public agencies in Sweden and there is no overarching responsibility for coordination. There are many good initiatives, but coordination is variable and these initiatives arrive at different rates, which makes planning incredibly difficult. We need a clear, unambiguous and transparent system,” says Machacek.
The panel can see many improvements that are necessary to help deal with this situation. Politicians must take bold decisions, states Robert Egnell, emphasising how rapidly action could be taken to reset the financial system, both regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but we are just treading water when it comes to the challenges of the climate and electrification.
Filip Johnsson states the importance of sticking to the long-term goals we have established.
“When policy really needs to step up and deliver, things feel a bit fuzzy,” he says.