Environmental and Sustainability Implications of the Ukraine War for East and South Asia: Sustainability and Decarbonisation Should Be Accelerated Not Paused

  • The economic disruptions from the Ukraine war have intensified short term concerns about energy and food security, as well as access to critical minerals. Climate security is also increasingly urgent. This paper urges governments to speed up, not slow down, transitions away from fossil fuels and toward more sustainable development patterns. The war is not a reason to “hit pause” on decarbonisation or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Major solutions commonly recommended before the Ukraine war are more relevant and urgent than ever: (1) energy/resource conservation, (2) energy/resource efficiency, (3) renewable energy, (4) circular economy, (5) sustainable lifestyles, and (6) the SDGs. The current economic disruptions are similar to past ones, and they will recur in the future, so the war is an opportunity to accelerate these solutions.
  • For both energy and climate security, energy, conservation and efficiency will produce the quickest short-term results. Investments in new fossil fuel production take a long time to complete so they cannot solve short-term disruptions. New energy investment should be shifted from fossil fuels to renewable energy, which is now more price competitive in many situations. Solutions for energy, food, and climate security need to be sustainable. 
  • Food security has long been a global problem, worsened by the Ukraine war. Therefore, as called for in SDG 2 on zero hunger, more sustainable solutions to achieve food security for vulnerable populations are needed, such as those recommended above.
  • The war may limit Russian exports of some critical minerals needed for clean energy transitions, but supplies are available in other regions, including Asia, so this is not a reason to increase investment in fossil fuels. The quickest solutions are resource conservation, efficiency, and the circular economy. Stronger environmental safeguards for mining are also needed.
  • The diversity across Asia also suggests that sustainable solutions in the region would also apply beyond it. All countries can benefit from sustainable and resilient solutions like resource efficiency regardless of their geopolitical orientation, and faster and more widespread adoption of sustainable solutions will produce quicker and more substantial benefits.