March 30, 2023 Edition

Is the War in Ukraine an Environmental Disaster? Amanpour & Company

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Now, as the war in Ukraine rages on, the West is struggling to pull the plug on Russian oil and gas. Svitlana Romanko is a Ukrainian climate activist and an environmental lawyer who joins Walter Isaacson to discuss fossil fuel addiction and the impact of the climate wars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER ISAACSON, HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Svitlana Romanko, welcome to the show.

SVITLANA ROMANKO, CLIMATE JUSTICE ACTIVIST AND FOUNDER, #STANDWITHUKRAINE CAMPAIGN: Thank you very much, Walter, for having me here today.

ISAACSON: You are joining us from your home in Western Ukraine. Tell us whats happening right now and how things are and why youre back there?

ROMANKO: Missiles and bombs are still flying over the territory of Ukraine constantly. And a few days ago, there were explosions in our neighboring city of (INAUDIBLE), which is not far my home as well. And we still have continuing alarms all of the time, just notifying us that there were some (INAUDIBLE) missiles and bombs on our territory as well. But our air defense forces are working well to protect us. And currently, I can say that actually, all dreadful deaths, destruction and violence, terror and genocide against Ukrainians are still happening mostly on the east and south of the country.

ISAACSON: Why do you remain there? Do you feel it is important to be in Ukraine and to continue this fight?

ROMANKO: It feels more than important for me as from the second day of war, when the war just started. And I do recall this time, the first day, when we just watched the speech of insane dictator on TV and then, we suddenly understood that the war against us, against Ukraine has been declared at that time. So, we second day, I was starting to think what we can do as climate activists, as what I can do personally as an activist, as a campaign manager, as a citizen of my country to stop and to end this horrific war. So, thats how I started to stand with Ukraine Global Action and started organize around this campaign. And, of course, it feels very important to continue and to stay on the side of Ukrainians and help us to end the war against Ukraine.

ISAACSON: Today, were commemorating Earth Day, and youre a great climate activist, environmental activist, a lawyer. Tell us how this war in Ukraine is intersecting with the environmental causes that you support.

ROMANKO: This is the tipping point for us as a humanity to end multiple crisiss that we are facing with energy crisis, climate crisis, crisis of human rights and international legal regulation, international agreements, I would also say and makes those who affects the environment and make a damage to environment, to climate and to my country pay, inevitably pay for all of the crimes that have been committed and we wont rest until those crimes will be punished appropriately. And especially speaking about the war in my country, it is such a symbolic Earth Day. I would like to recall that for now up to the latest U.N. report, its not only the war against Ukraine because it has already affected 1.7 billion people in 107 countries who are now faced with rising prices for food and energy and not even saying what is happening in my country right now. And I am calling on the world leaders like now, I hope they will be watching. I am calling on political parties. I am calling on deputies, which are speaking in the parliaments, on banks, on those who are on the companies who are keeping the investments in fossil fuels that its not a time for doing business as usual. We should meet all at Stockholm Plus 50 and we should end fossil fuels everywhere and we should have a conflict then and sign a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, which seems extremely important to do right now when we still have a chance for survival and for meeting climate crisis, climate crisis, war crisis. Because I this is war in my country, but I also recognize that there are many wars and conflict fueled by fossil fuels in many other countries. And it is very essential and important how we tackle Kremlins and Putins threat as a humanity. Because other dictators are probably watching and while growing their fossil fuel reserves, they just want to step in and be a supplier after we defeat Putin. It should not happen. And thats an imperative that we phase out all fossil fuels, not just replace them with some other associates from some other countries.

ISAACSON: You say we should not replace them from other sources from other countries, but to get Europe through this winter without using Russian oil and Russian gas, should there be exports from the United States of liquified natural gas, should there be some transition period so that Russia doesnt have total control over the heating and electricity needs of Europe this coming winter?

ROMANKO: Thats important to recognize that Russia does not have full control even now, because the countries all over the world, including, the U.S., U.K. and Canada and the E.U. partially as we see, are moving towards the full embargo (ph) on Russian fossil fuels. So, Russia does have not control. They would like to, but they dont. They dont have for n ow. I know the best things that the U.S., for example, can import rather than oil and gas reserves and start new explorations, these are heat lamps and new technologies, which really bring technologies which will lead Europeans, for example, to live through the winter and try to make a replacement at decent and successful try as well. Because thats how we make green revolution possible. And the first step, of course, should be recording Russian oil, gas and coal, which is happening in the world. But the second step should be just immediate halting of fossil fuel expansion everywhere by every nation, worldwide. We all have to commit to (INAUDIBLE) and just transition away from all fossil fuels. And reliance of on coal, oil and gas, I have to stress on that specifically that its intentional embrace of test (ph) misery collapse at a global scale. So, we have all chances as a humanity to live through the cold winter if we, first of all, will cut our energy supply. Thats essential. If everyone understand that we cannot use as much fossil fuels as we used to because fossil fuels are now killing people and they have become a weapon of mass destruction. Its kind of a moral and ethical choice which we have to make, every one of us in Europe and in the U.S., in the U.K.

ISAACSON: You recently wrote an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times with the American environmentalist Bill McKibben. You said, the worlds banks have amorally worked to build Russias oil and gas industry, the industry that funds Russias army and the industry that Vladimir Putin has used as a cudgel for decades to keep Europe cowering. What more should President Biden be doing and what more should the banks be doing to stop any investment that would help Russias petrochemical state?

ROMANKO: Yes. Banks are holding the financial power. They are holding immense resources, which have been used for years for sponsoring some Russian oil and gas companies. So, there are close connections between J.P. Morgan Chase, for example, and ExxonMobil and the Russian oil and gas construction companies that we all know. But, yes, this huge financial recess should be immediately divested from existing infrastructure and fossil fuels. Because what President Biden did and what we are truly grateful for, for his leadership, I think we should recognize that he strikes strike into the heart of Putins war machine when he Putin embargo on oil and gas from Russia. And the second, he put a ban on imposed a ban on all new investments made from the U.S. to Russia, currently. But I think there is still something that banks can do and that something that citizens can do for banks to ask their bankers just theyve banned (ph) all existing funds from fossil fuel industry, and not only from Russia, from Russia as a priority because, yes, because its killing people, but at the same time, the banks which are a bullwork of autocracy should change and the green revolution should start from those banks in particular. They have to not just only end financial statuses for all infrastructure, but also I mean, and all infrastructure, but not to provide loans and financial statuses for new fossil fuel explorations nowhere, neither in Africa now in Latin America, just nowhere, not to invest into the assets that definitely will be stranded.

ISAACSON: The United States and much of Europe has put sanctions on Russian oil, tried to stop the flow of Russian oil and natural gas. But most countries of this world are not really supporting that. You have China. You have India. You have countries throughout Africa, you even have Israel that are not trying to do it. What do you say to those countries who are not part of the pushback against the use of any Russian oil or gas?

ROMANKO: For countries that as India, as China, as Japan, for example, stand with Ukraine campaign was demanded for from those governments, as well, just to stop, stop buying impose embargo on Russian oil and gas in a shorter perspective and, of course, phase out fossil fuels in a longer perspective. But I think thats on the collective efforts because we shall want then, we have same climate, we have same climate crisis. I will quote a last a recent study by the German Institute for Economic Research, Germany that Germany could stop using Russian gas as early as 2022. So, there is always a chance and there is always an option to end our traction to fossil fuels even for such an energy-consuming countries like India, like China. And China actually we wrote a letter to China and with Asian partners warning them of buying the cheap assets, which are remain in Russian fossil fuel infrastructure, in industry after all other after new investments were ended and some companies and banks divested from Russia. We make a warning that dont buy these assets from Russia. Its because you have all chances to become a leader of green transportation, which is need I believe more pressure and more interconnection and understanding of interaction between climate crisis and the wars and conflicts and the energy crisis and how our future will look like. The last point, also, States should make that registers of fossil fuels public. And we should know how many each country has. We should know and every each country should commit of non-proliferation of those fossil fuels in the longer perspective. I dont understand. It seems it sounds like a bit of fantastic because we are all dependent, but it just seems impossible until its done.

ISAACSON: In addition to the tragic loss of life that Russia has inflicted on your country, Ukraine, its also inflicted a lot of environmental damage, this war. Tell me what type of damage to protected regions, to water, to the land has been caused by Russia during this war?

ROMANKO: Already its we all know that the damage has been huge, and the we will just keep feeling those losses for years and years ahead. For example, on the east of the country and especially on the east, on the south, there were a lot of industrial plants and coal mines and as well, chemical enterprises. And all of these chemical substances and toxic liquids have been after the destruction leaked into the ground, into the water, into the air. And again, those missiles and bombs and those heavy military infrastructures it is still remaining on the lands and as well, producing more Co2 emissions as well while flying and producing more waste, as well that we will need to utilize after the war ends. And but, of course, it is a huge, huge damage to biodiversity. And I am not sure for now because we dont have like official assessments. Our ministry is tracking the damages that has been made. But probably, we will be even speaking about ecocide and which means massive, massive destruction of and massive harm to the environment. And, of course, I would say that we wont rest, I believe either (ph) our authorities and activities until all of those environmental crimes will be punished and reimbursed in appropriate manner. Because we have a European principle that the polluter pays. But it the polluter should pay 10 times a bigger price and even more bigger price for all this destruction.

ISAACSON: The environmental crisis thats been caused by this war has intersected with the food crisis, and the food crisis is going to affect the whole world. How are those two crises related?

ROMANKO: Everything is interconnected in ecosystem and everything is interconnected in the policy and everything is interconnected and been harmed by this war, horrific war in Ukraine that we are so much want to have ended. And they are interconnected because Ukraine has very fertile lands and it was one of the biggest producers of grain, of wheat. And now, with the sea ports being blocked, our ships cannot still deliver those food products to the customers. So, it two different assessments will be hunger in some countries, which would never could connect with our country if we do not specifically that our country imports the food products, especially in Africa and in other countries. So, it truly impacts all humanity and all of the population, especially in developing countries.

ISAACSON: You have been fighting the climate battle for a long time as an environmental lawyer, well before this war. Tell me how this war has changed what youre doing.

ROMANKO: I would not say it changed much. It just made me focus specially on the importance of the moment while we should cut all financial guys, which still bring Kremlin and Putin enormous money to feed the war against my country. Ive been very just very busy truly and passionately with StandWithUkraine Campaign and thanks for the global solidarity, because I was not doing that alone. 770 organizations from 60 countries starting from Angola, Nigeria and to Pacific countries, including many organizations. They signed off and they are trying to campaign against the fossil fuels and against all crises we name today. And I believe that it changed in the ways that I felt a huge global solidarity, which brings me hope that we can overcome the war in Ukraine. We can overcome climate crisis. We still have time, but we need to use this time in the best way we can. When I see young people occupying the streets and demanding a full embargo for peace from the Europe to U.S. and many other countries, it brings me hope when some governments turn to some merges to and investments or important embargo on fossil fuels or just ban new explorations in their countries, it brings me hope. But I would like to share this hope with everyone who is listening and I would like to call to everyone who is listening, dont be neutral in this case. You can do something about the war. You can do actually a lot of about stopping and tackling climate crisis and just please start to do it today.

ISAACSON: Svitlana Romanko, thank you very much for joining us.

ROMANKO: Thank you so much, Walter. It was my real pleasure to be here and to speak with you. Thank you so much.

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