A Ukrainian Climate Scientist is Uniquely Positioned to Explain the Real Threat to the Global Order
Svitlana Krkovska, Ukrainian meteorologist was cautious about speaking her mind. On Sunday, sitting next to her sons’ bunk beds in her Kyiv home, she joined a Zoom meeting of the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was giving final approval for Monday’s landmark report on climate adaptation. Krakovska states that she is deeply in love with the IPCC and does not believe that delegates should discuss political matters.
But to Krakovska, 53, the air raid sirens that she and her family were intermittently sheltering from, as Russian missiles threatened the Ukrainian capital, were deeply connected to the report’s subject. “The money that is funding this aggression comes from the same [place] as climate change does: fossil fuels,” she says over Zoom on Monday. “If we didn’t depend on fossil fuels, [Russia] would not have money to make this aggression.”
Krakovska’s point—which she made in an impassioned address to colleagues at the meeting, prompting the Russian delegation to issue an apology for the invasion—has been made by others. Many observers have accused the U.S., Germany, and other Western countries of not responding quickly to Russian threats. This was because they fear that this would worsen a worldwide fuel price crisis. Others have pointed out that Russia’s ability to finance its Ukraine invasion depends in large part on its export of oil and natural gas, which combined accounted for 36% of its national budget last year. (“Every barrel of Russian oil and every cubic meter of Russian gas is now full of the blood of Ukrainians,“ Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenco said in a video posted to Twitter Thursday.)
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But as head of Ukraine’s delegation to the IPCC, Krakovska is uniquely placed to understand how the two major crises facing her country—and the global political order—are linked. The world will struggle to confront a problem as sprawling and complex as climate change, and implement the IPCC’s recommendations, without the rules-based order that Russia is challenging in its invasion, she says, citing the threat to international collaboration, as well as the potential for increased conflicts over resources. “If any big country can just take its neighbor, with rich soil, good water management, and good forests, we cannot deal with climate change,” she says. “If we lose, all other countries lose. Because they will not stop.”
The IPCC report warned that Europe is warming at faster than the global average rate, spelling increased water scarcity and losses in agricultural production, and that efforts to adapt the region to climate change were showing only “incremental” progress.
This cycle of IPCC assessment is the first to have Ukrainian scientists serve as lead authors. Krakovska’s team had been preparing a large press conference and planned to use the momentum to apply for new grants for projects—after eight years in which Ukraine has struggled to fund scientific research as it focused on building up its army after Russia annexed Crimea, Krakovska says. That work is in limbo now, as the nation’s scientists, like other Ukrainians, take shelter in their homes or flee their country.
A grim joke has been circulating in Ukraine: that this is indeed World War Three, with Russia fighting for Russia, and Ukraine fighting for the rest of the world—voicing a frustration with the lack of military support from the U.S. and the E.U. “The only good thing is that we are so united now in Ukraine—you can’t even imagine,” Krakovska says. “Before we had a lot of fighting inside, but now we have one goal. This is how we should be with climate change.”