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Editorial by EEA Executive Director, published in the EEA Newsletter, no 1/2022, March 2022
The Russian military aggression in Ukraine changed the lives of Ukrainians from one day to the next. The impacts of this unjustified war are felt not only in Ukraine but also well beyond the borders of Ukraine and will continue to impact us all for years and even for generations to come.
Wars bring imminent destruction and loss. The loss created by this war is not only measured in loss of life or property. To those impacted, it is the loss of loved ones, family and friends, which can never be replaced. Losing the sense of a safe home and trust in the 'other' is equally hard to mend. What is destroyed in a matter of seconds can take decades to rebuild.
The unprovoked and unjustified aggression of the Russian military in Ukraine is now in its third week. And every passing day brings more loss and destruction. We are witnessing a human tragedy, where soldiers and civilians are losing their lives, millions — mothers and children — are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, and many of those staying behind who until two weeks ago were going about their daily lives are now volunteering to join the Ukrainian defence forces. Several months ago, only a few could have imagined this turn of events and how fast they would unfold.
The European continent has seen many wars. It was to eliminate the possibility of future wars and to bring long-lasting peace to the continent that European countries started cooperating in a number of policy domains, including energy. The European Union was established, first and foremost, with this objective — a fact many of us might have forgotten or taken for granted until these recent events. Today, the scope of European cooperation covers a wide range of policy areas from humanitarian aid and trade to environment and agriculture, and this in a political context of peace for more than seven decades.
EU solidarity within and with Ukrainians
Faced with this current crisis, it is this will and commitment to work together that enabled the European Union and its 27 Member States to speak and act with one voice and provide joint support to refugees while imposing economic sanctions on Russia. This solidarity within the EU and with Ukraine was consolidated further by the European leaders last week at the European Council meeting in Versailles, France.
In addition to providing support to incoming Ukrainian refugees, one of the issues to address within the EU remains the current level of dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Russia remains the main energy supplier for some EU Member States, making these countries particularly vulnerable. The rise in global energy prices had started well before the Russian war but the prices have become even higher and more volatile since. Reducing Russian imports will most certainly put upward pressure on energy prices in the short term.
EU leaders asked the European Commission to propose a RePowerEU plan to make the EU independent from Russian oil, coal and gas well before 2030, while mitigating the impact of rising energy prices and accelerating the clean energy transition. The plan will need to focus further on energy efficiency and improving interconnectivity of energy networks and electricity grids. The European Commission will also need to put forward by end of this month a plan to look at short to mid-term security of supply for the next winter.
The European Green Deal and the European Climate Law had already locked the EU on the course towards climate neutrality for 2050 with ambitious milestones, including the 55% emission reduction by 2030. Given the recent developments, it is clear that the EU will need to put in place even more ambitious measures. This does not need to result in any deviation from the overall course. On the contrary, reducing our dependency on fossil fuels may indeed urge us to accelerate the energy transition.
Immeasurable and irreplaceable losses
Wars bring imminent destruction and loss. The loss created by this war is not only measured in loss of life or property. To those impacted, it is the loss of loved ones, family and friends, who can never be replaced. Losing the sense of a safe home and trust in the 'other' is equally hard to mend. What is destroyed in a matter of seconds can take decades to rebuild.
Wars also have long-lasting repercussions on the environment. Depending on the extent of destruction caused by war and the type of arsenal deployed, toxic chemicals in water, soil and the air might persist for decades to come, harming human health, habitats and species. In addition to pollution, debris, waste and destruction of ecosystems, wars and the reconstruction in their aftermath are very resource intensive, exerting additional pressures and demands on energy and construction materials.
The war is also very likely to affect global supply of wheat, which might in turn push global food prices up and cause shortages in some regions. Whatever the cause may be, these shocks and crises affect some people and regions more than others. Our duty and European values compel us to show solidarity with those who need our help.
My thoughts go to all the Ukrainians impacted by this crisis. I can only hope for a quick and peaceful end to this aggression without any further loss.