Russia's war in Ukraine could push the world more quickly toward adopting more renewable energy, according to a panel of experts at NYC Climate Week.
"I'm an optimist. And my optimism tells me that actually we will probably see a faster and cleaner new transition across the world as a result of this war. But it's going to be tough in the short term," said COP26 President Alok Sharma during a panel called "The new climate reality: energy certainty in an uncertain world."
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has thrown Europe and the world into an energy crisis. Europe's reliance on Russian energy has pushed prices of natural gas sky high as Russia cuts down on gas flows in response to Western sanctions. Natural gas prices have surged 99 percent year-to-date, according to the Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price.
But this energy crisis predated the war in Ukraine, according to Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, which organizes NYC Climate Week.
"While [the war] has certainly exacerbated the problem, we were already heading towards a crisis," Clarkson said. "We need to commit to drastic measures, both long and short term, to really grasp the issue. And those will look different in different countries."
Leila Benali, Ph.D., the minister for energy transition and sustainable development for the government of Morocco, said the war just reinforces the need for a more rapid shift.
"If there's one thing that the Ukraine war has taught us is, it's the importance …of a diversified energy mix and, I think, the need to accelerate the energy transition," Dr. Benali said.
Morocco is leading the way in adoption, with renewable projects contributing almost 40 percent of energy capacity and on track to exceed 50 percent by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum. Globally, renewables accounted for about 81 percent of net capacity expansion worldwide in 2021, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
But clean energy is not always the first solution that comes to mind amid the energy crisis. There are desperate countries seeking alternative sources of natural gas, and still others turning to dirtier energy alternatives like coal. According to Reuters, remote mines in destinations likes Tanzania, Botswana, and Madagascar have experienced demand surges from buyers attempting to distance themselves from Russia and moderate prices.
With COP27 less than two months away, Clarkson urged nations to steer clear of the temptation to turn to dirty energy and maintain commitments made at COP26.
"I'm sure many of you will join me in being increasingly concerned by reports from all over the globe of leaders seeking to find or extract new fossil fuels as an answer to the energy crisis, Clarkson said. "There's just no way to do this. And, as we all committed to at COP 26, keep 1.5 alive."