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‘This is madness’: UN warns against turning to fossil fuels because of war in Ukraine

A flame burns from a tower at the Vankorskoye oilfield owned by Russia’s Rosneft energy company (Reuters)
A flame burns from a tower at the Vankorskoye oilfield owned by Russia’s Rosneft energy company (Reuters)

The head of the UN Antonio Guterres has warned it is "madness" to increase any use of fossil fuels as a response to the war in Ukraine as countries try to cut ties with Russia.

International efforts to ditch Russian coal, oil and gas must not see countries turn to any available alternative to shore up their energy security, Mr Guterres said, likening the strategy to the "mutually assured destruction" of nuclear war between superpowers.

European countries have rapidly sought to end their dependence on Russian fossil fuels since the invasion of Ukraine, with the EU planning to slash its use of Russian gas from accounting for 45 per cent of all gas provision to zero by 2027. Russia also supplies around a quarter of the EU’s crude oil.

But as countries rush to broker new deals with other hydrocarbon-rich states, such as Qatar, which has just signed a long-term gas deal with Germany, the UN has warned that focusing on replacing Russian fossil fuels with other sources of the same climate-altering products will end the prospect of keeping average global temperatures below dangerous levels.

Despite the UK having a very low dependency on Russian gas and oil – around 3 and 8 per cent of all UK supplies respectively – Boris Johnson’s government has said it is exploring new drilling prospects for oil and gas in the North Sea, which would take decades to come on line, and has offered to extend deadlines to seal fracking wells.

The US White House spokesperson Jen Psaki also said earlier this month that the war in Ukraine was a reason for American oil and gas firms to "get more supply out of the ground in our own country".

Mr Guterres said: "Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use," he said by video at a sustainability summit organised by The Economist.

"This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction."

He added: "Instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonisation of the global economy, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal towards a renewable energy future".

His warning comes as scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change begin a two-week meeting to finalise their latest report about the world’s efforts to curb emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases.

Mr Guterres said the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting average global temperature rises to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era was now "on life support" because countries are not doing enough to drive down emissions.

To meet the goal now requires a 45 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030, he said.

"If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye," he said.

Additional reporting by PA.