This week, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his ruthless campaign against civilians in Ukraine, the United Nations made a bold pronouncement.
In a March 21 videoconference, U.N. Secretary-General António Gutteres lamented the environmental consequences of sanctioning Russian natural gas. “As major economies pursue an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels,” he said, “short-term measures might create long-term fossil fuel dependence … This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.”
Perhaps Gutteres should ask the 100,000 trapped and starving residents of Mariupol what their definition of destruction is. Regardless of how one views the risk posed by climate change, rants comparing fossil fuel usage to nuclear war play right into Putin’s hands. Meanwhile, he threatens actual nuclear war on Europe.
This is not the first time climate concerns have played to Putin’s advantage. In 2021, Russian climate envoy (and noted human rights abuser) Ruslan Edelgeriyev invoked global warming as a reason to lift sanctions on state-owned energy companies, which Putin falsely claims are working on “green energy products.”
The invasion of Ukraine scuttled any plans to lift sanctions on Gazprom, but in the coming weeks and months, we should expect Putin to begin making similar arguments. He will rely on the climate obsession of U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry to create cracks in the free world’s united opposition to Putin.
During the conflict’s opening days, Kerry bemoaned the “massive emissions consequences” of starting a land war in Europe but said it was “equally” important that “big country attention … will be diverted” from climate change. Kerry is a fanatic, but he will find sympathetic voices at the U.N., and Putin will exploit that misguided sentiment at every turn. We cannot fall for it.
First, it is important to remember that Putin is a war criminal, as President Biden himself acknowledges. The Kremlin’s troops are slaughtering women and children and razing entire cities to the ground under his orders. If we lift sanctions on Russian energy, our dollars will fund Putin’s campaign of evil. That’s a moral compromise we simply cannot make.
Second, addressing climate change is no excuse for running headlong into economic dependence on hostile regimes. Our European allies learned the hard way that rejecting domestic energy production puts good people under the thumb of authoritarians. Cutting ties with Putin would not have been nearly so difficult for them if they had not abandoned (carbon-free) nuclear power and become so reliant on Russian natural gas in the first place. To go down that road again would be supremely irresponsible. We should learn from the mistakes of the past, not repeat them.
Finally, it’s simply untrue that boycotting Russian energy will necessarily intensify climate change. Russian companies emit 30 percent more methane per unit of production than American companies. Moreover, there is an oil spill in Russia every 30 minutes. All this is to say that replacing Russian natural gas with American natural gas would actually be better for the climate.
The same goes for continuing to protect our markets from other authoritarian regimes. Iran’s energy sector produces 85% more methane by volume than America’s. Similarly, Venezuela, whose narco-dictatorship the Biden administration is also courting, has a notoriously dirty oil industry. It would be as equally foolish to lift sanctions on these regimes’ industries as it would be to reopen trade with Russia.
Dictators like Putin would love to see Western energy production falter. Why else would the Russian government fund and promote anti-energy activism here in America? Putin doesn’t care about the environment; we know from history that the climate is low on the Kremlin’s list of priorities. But Putin is happy to weaponize environmentalism if it leads to sanction relief. We cannot let him get what he wants.
Financing Putin’s war crimes, and those of other authoritarians, is no solution to climate change. The best thing we can do for the climate right now is also the best thing we can do to advance America’s geopolitical interests: lift constraints on domestic oil and natural gas, and bring energy production back home.
Marco Rubio is a U.S. Senator from Florida. The views expressed are the author’s own.