The effects of the conflict in Ukraine have rippled across the globe, sending more than two million refugees fleeing, and driving up gasoline prices in the U.S., heating bills in Europe, the cost of bread in the Middle East, and even the price of potato chips around the world. But one of the most significant impacts, for the future of global warming at least, is unfolding thousands of miles away in the Arctic, where vital research on carbon emissions just came to a screeching halt.
“I would not put it past [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to now view the Arctic as another avenue for conflict, and one that will allow him to flex his muscles,” says Daniel Silverberg, a managing director for the Washington, D.C.-based policy strategy consultancy Capstone, and an adjunct senior fellow for energy, economics, and security at policy organization, the Center For a New American Security. Putin has any number of options at his disposal to inflict pain on the United States and its allies in the Arctic in a way that does not necessarily rise to an act of war, notes Silverberg, but still manages to be deleterious to regional commerce. Russia could use its vast new fleet of icebreakers to make passage across the polar sea routes more difficult for foreign vessels, or fish on the edges of territorial waters, which could hurt domestic fishing industries
Far more likely, and worrying, says Silverberg, is that without the Arctic Council to hold it accountable, Russia could commit some kind of climate-harming actions in the far north, such as gas flaring which releases planet-warming methane emission, or develop new climate and environment-harming mining activities that would normally be adjudicated by the Council. “For all of this to be taking place at the exact time when we’re trying to advance COP26 objectives [to reduce carbon emissions and limit warming to 1.5°C beyond pre-industrial levels] is troubling,” says Silverberg. “Obviously, the number one priority is saving human life and stopping the hot conflict, but to the extent climate change is a national security threat, the Arctic is ground zero. We need to be mindful of how this kind of hot conflict ripples into that context.”
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