Ukraine: building back better and greener
With the largest untapped potential for solar and wind energy in Europe, Ukraine is perfectly positioned to replace a previous dependence on Russian oil and gas imports with renewable electricity sources, writes Iryna Stavchuk.
As we reach the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an event that brought large-scale conflict to European soil and continues to devastate lives, it is important to understand the radical changes this has made to the global energy market and what’s required to rebuild the war-torn country and develop a secure, green energy system, the benefits of which could be felt far beyond its borders.
Following the illegal invasion, panic ensued as Russia cut most gas exports to European countries, triggering an energy crisis punctuated by scarce supplies, record-setting energy prices, and living situations.
Yet fears of an increase in reliance on fossil fuels did not materialise; uncertainty gave way to practical action.
The conflict has served to accelerate the energy transition at the EU and global levels. In 2022, EU wind and solar generated a fifth of its energy needs, continuing to outstrip coal and overtake gas, saving the equivalent of € 11 billion of the latter being imported into the EU.
And whilst the immediate priorities are military and humanitarian aid, a faster transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energy represents a golden opportunity for Ukraine. Alongside rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, housing stock and hospitals, this shift could modernise the country’s economy and make it more resilient to energy security threats and climate crises.
Huge clean energy potential
With Europe’s largest untapped potential for solar and wind energy, Ukraine is perfectly positioned to replace a previous dependence on Russian oil and gas imports with renewable electricity sources. A renewable mix has the potential to deliver plentiful low-carbon energy, benefiting not only its citizens but those in countries far beyond its borders.
With ambitious recovery and reconstruction, emissions-intensive and polluting assets destroyed by Russia, particularly in heavy industry, must be replaced by sustainable alternatives to achieve this.
There are already green shoots of recovery emerging from the rubble. Sustained Russian shelling of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure destroyed substations and power plants resulting in increasingly frequent and prolonged power outages, severely impacting the ability of critical services, such as hospitals, to function correctly.
With support from several European countries, a project led by Ecoclub NGO is installing solar power plants in six hospitals. Such alternative, affordable energy access solutions must be celebrated and replicated.
This vision for Ukraine’s sustainable reconstruction will also help pave the way for its economic integration with European energy markets and green technology production chains as it seeks EU accession following acceptance as a candidate state in June 2022.
Partners of Ukraine, EU leaders, and Ukrainians need to develop a ‘Green Marshall Plan’. This term draws parallels with the blueprint to restore the economic infrastructure of post-war Europe. The estimated €750 billion cost of reconstruction is a significant challenge, but, under G7 coordination, with support from, amongst others, international financial institutions, major private philanthropic groups and prominent private-sector leaders, much can be achieved.
By introducing innovative and sustainable technologies to rebuild the country’s once-mighty steel manufacturing industry, for example, the EU would, in turn, be able to procure these low-carbon products.
Initial discussions on a Ukrainian recovery plan occurred at two international conferences in Switzerland and Germany in 2022. Neither delivered concrete funding pledges nor an agreed structure to facilitate the infrastructure or energy rebuild, but they did provide a crucial starting point for discussions.
The outcome document of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, held in Lugano in July 2022, incorporated sustainability as one of seven core principles for rebuilding, and committed to alignment with the Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a broad green transition.
Furthermore, the Ukraine government’s current draft recovery plan for the energy sector includes decarbonisation, modernisation and increasing energy efficiency as critical areas. However, this must be translated into properly funded priority recovery policies and projects.
A turbocharged recovery
The coming months offer several opportunities for the international community to turbocharge the recovery plan.
Under their G7 presidency, Japan has pledged $5.5 billion in aid and invited President Zelenskiy to an online summit, with the main topics for discussion being support of Ukraine and the continuation of sanctions against Russia to accelerate an end to the conflict.
Additional ministerial meetings ahead of the G7 Hiroshima summit in May, followed by a panel of G20 financial leaders in Delhi, can provide more vital building blocks for Ukrainian recovery.
Meanwhile, June’s Ukraine Recovery Conference in London will offer a globally inclusive opportunity to map out the scale of investment required and the coordination platform to spark the recovery process, including the role of financial institutions, such as the European Investment Bank and IMF.
We mourn the loss and devastation that Ukraine has suffered over the past year, but the war has created a new dynamic. Strong global leadership, political will and funding streams will ensure that Ukraine is built back better and greener.