War in Ukraine puts German climate action in the spotlight

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Germany remains committed to phasing out coal as an energy source by 2030, even if it reactivates coal-fired power plants, the country’s climate envoy said Monday. Germany says it has taken the step to get through next winter amid energy shortages caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We are now at a crossroads,” said Jennifer Morgan, adding that the war in Ukraine shows how connected energy security and independence are to climate security and peace. Morgan spoke to The UK Time News on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The US-born former international head of Greenpeace acted as Germany’s special envoy for international climate action in March. Now a German citizen, she is also Secretary of State.

Ten months ago, in her role at Greenpeace, she chided world leaders for being “weak” at phasing out coal rather than abolishing it altogether. More cautious as a government official, she now says the dirty fuel is a bitter drug her country will have to swallow this winter, echoing the sentiment of the country’s Green Party.

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“We are in the middle of a Russian war of aggression,” she said. “We need to make sure our citizens have enough heat for the winter.”

She said the decision to burn more coal is “a hard pill to swallow”. However, she emphasized that the war in Ukraine “has made it increasingly clear why we need to phase out fossil fuels”.

European Union countries are spending billions this year on fossil fuel subsidies to offset high prices. The bloc has been criticized for including natural gas, a fossil fuel and nuclear energy in a list of sustainable activities. The bloc also signed a deal with Egypt and Israel this year to aid in new gas exploration.

Morgan said Germany’s first priority remains renewable energy and energy efficiency, with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. The second priority, she said, is to replace Russian gas, oil and coal.

In a signal of its intention to do so, Berlin announced last week that it was seizing Russian state-owned Rosneft’s interests in refineries in Germany under a law permitting the seizure of assets considered essential to the national energy supply and owned by potentially hostile foreign entities, according to risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

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Germany had previously seized assets from the Russian state-controlled gas company Gazprom, which has disrupted natural gas supplies to Germany over its alleged technical difficulties — a statement German officials dismiss as political maneuvering.

Due to the war in Ukraine, Germany has stopped dialogue with Russia and is not holding climate talks with the major energy producer, which is one of the top five emitters of greenhouse gases.

Historically, the United States, China and the European Union — of which Germany is a major member — have emitted 53% of the air’s carbon dioxide since 1959. That greenhouse gas remains in the atmosphere for 100 years, according to the Global Carbon Project, a group of international scientists who track CO2 emissions.

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In contrast, all of Africa and South America each emitted only 3% CO2 into the atmosphere during the same period.

The recent devastating floods in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa, including the looming famine in Somalia, are partly attributed to climate change.

As Greenpeace’s international director, Morgan had called for major countries that emit greenhouse gases to be held accountable and to pay the bill for the energy transition according to the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

In her new role as Germany’s climate envoy, she said the country has listened to the most vulnerable countries and is supporting climate finance to help communities around the world struggling with the impacts of climate change.

“The world is literally on fire,” she said. “We have to take this very seriously.”

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Dubai-based UKTN correspondent Aya Batrawy has an assignment for the UN General Assembly. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ayaelb

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