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Ukraine war, Russian energy attacks loom over COP27 climate conference




 Most country pavilions at the U.N. Climate Conference, known as COP27, are decorated with colorful representations of climate goals - Brazil's is filled with flashing lights, Niger's has a Bedouin seating area.


Ukraine's exhibit is gray. "Because all of life in Ukraine has the same color right now," explained Alina Konovalchenko, 23, director of operations at the U.N. Global Compact in Ukraine. "We were on our way to transition to climate neutrality ... and to a lot of other good innovations. But with this war, we were put on hold."

This is the first COP since Russia invaded Ukraine in February - and the first time Ukraine has had its own pavilion at the annual conference. Ukrainian delegates hope their presence will serve not only as a stark reminder of the human costs of the war, but also the consequences of the world's reliance on fossil fuel producers such as Russia.

So far, they are being warmly received.

Last year, "we were often told not to politicize [discussions]," said Alex Riabchyn, who has represented Ukraine at COP since 2015. This year, though, dozens of world leaders have condemned Russia's invasion. "When [attendees] see you have the Ukrainian flag on your jacket, people come and hug us," he said. "People say, 'Slava Ukraina' and come to our pavilion just to have a handshake."

That world leaders are devoting time to the war in their three-minute speeches has boosted the spirits of the Ukrainian delegation, he said. Addressing the conference remotely from Kyiv on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces have already destroyed 5 million acres of forest. "There can be no effective climate policy without peace," he said.

The war is a common theme here in discussions on a wide range of global topics - from migration and food insecurity to climate finance. "If the world goes into a recession, largely linked with the war in Ukraine, that is an issue for everybody, because the resources available to deal with climate change can be squeezed," said António Vitorino, head of the U.N. migration agency.

The conference also coincides with a period of intense worry in Europe over the ongoing energy crisis, as winter approaches and millions of people may struggle to heat their homes. Last month, Russia ramped up its attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, methodically destroying key hubs, including those that power the country's heating systems. The bombing campaign is mainly affecting civilians and amounts to war crimes, Western officials have said. European leaders also fear the attacks could prompt a new wave of Ukrainian refugees.

"Putin's abhorrent war in Ukraine and rising energy prices across the world are not a reason to go slow on climate change," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. "They are a reason to act faster."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the switch to renewable energy as a "security policy imperative."

Russia's methodical attacks exploit frailty of Ukrainian power system

As of early this week, some 4 million Ukrainians were experiencing power outages in their homes as a result of the Russian attacks, including Maxim Timchenko, CEO of DTEK, Ukraine's largest energy company. He is attending COP27, where he is trying to rally support for replacement infrastructure to repair the damage and avoid long-term blackouts.

"Just like our military people say, 'Give us equipment, we are ready to fight,' we can send the same message as an energy company," he said. "But our fight is in the energy war. ... That's why the supply of equipment for infrastructure is critical and of the same importance as military equipment."

Already, officials in Kyiv are setting up heating stations and preparing plans to evacuate people from the capital in the event of a power crisis this winter.

Olha Boiko, 26, who works at the Kyiv-based NGO Ecoaction and is a regional coordinator at the Climate Action Network, said climate activists struggled at the beginning of the war to advocate for their cause, but are now finding their voice.

"When there's a huge fossil fuel empire attacking you and everything connected to it is something we need to fight," she said, it becomes easier "to prove to people that depending on fossil fuels and having a centralized system is dangerous not only because of a hurricane or something but also because of war."

Suddenly, she said, "there's no pushback on issues we've been pushing for years."

Through more-intimate conversations, Ukrainian delegates also hope to change the minds of those who still see the war as "new powers against old powers," said Oleg Kirichuk, a member of the delegation.

"Our goal is to persuade African countries, to persuade Latin America, India ... countries that still don't support Ukraine, that Ukraine needs their support," he said.

On the bus from the airport to her hotel, Konovalchenko began speaking to a COP delegate from Sudan, she said.

"He started from the phrase 'Okay, I understand you and I support you, but,' and finished with the words 'Oh, I didn't know the full picture,'" she said.

Outside the conference, though, a different dynamic is at play.

Before the war, Sharm's resorts were among the most popular holiday destinations for Ukrainian and Russian tourists. Restaurant menus are often written in Cyrillic. The influx of tourists from both locations has dwindled significantly since the war began. And although Russians face increasing obstacles to traveling abroad, they can still come to Egypt.

Konovalchenko's hotel is hosting Russian tourists. At breakfast this week, she said, Russian was the only language she heard.

"I know all people have the right for rest but it's very painful to see how easily they can relax and chill, knowing their country is bombing Ukraine and our kids are without water or food," she said.




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