This much is certain: when history judges Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine it will find Vladimir Putin guilty. What’s far less clear is how the chain of events unleashed by the Russian president will play out for a global energy transition that was already a maelstrom of competing forces even before Putin threw a literal bomb into the mix.
Exactly a year from the start of the conflict and the energy crisis it sparked, there are two sides to this awful coin.
Let’s call Heads a rare green consolation of the many awful downsides seen over the last 12 months. Within days of the invasion, governments across Europe, and further afield, began realising that their own wind and sun is a safer bet than Putin’s gas.
That prompted an unprecedented policy effort in Europe in particular, with national governments and the EU within weeks developing a renewables- and hydrogen-led response that promised to lead a race for green independence.
Some might hope a similar frenzy could be on show at UN climate change summits, but in any case, if the details of policy can be resolved – consenting looms especially large – and in conjunction with other massive initiatives such as the US’s Inflation Reduction Act, Russia may just have turbocharged the transition that will usher fossil fuels out of the global energy system.
The other side of Putin’s coin took longer to emerge, but just shy of a year on the from invasion it was clear to see in the earnings reports of Europe’s fossil fuel giants – Big Oil has a spring in its step again, and after years of being labelled a global problem is relishing the chance to be seen in some quarters as part of the solution to the energy security crisis.
With revenues pouring in and national governments such as the UK backtracking on pledges to end exploration in their waters, investment in oil, or other fossil-led exploration such as gas fracking, no longer look the folly they might have done pre-invasion – if all you’re worried about is the dollar return, that is.
Because make no mistake, terrible though the war on Ukraine has been, the world is still fighting a wider battle against the global heating whose consequences are already being seen in the form of flood and fire across the planet.
Achieving the consensus for collective action needed for the world’s green transition was already tough enough. If Putin’s aggression makes that mission harder, history will come to its harsh verdict but it will already be too late. Tails we are all losers.