WWF chief: 'Short-term' moves over Ukraine war could imperil climate fight

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LISBON, June 28 (Reuters) - The World Wildlife Fund's chief warned on Tuesday that "short-term decisions" to tackle an international energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine could undermine efforts to fight longer-term climate change.

He was referring to soaring energy costs and supply shocks triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that have spurred some countries to burn more coal and buy up non-Russian gas.

This has raised concern that climate issues could be swept under the carpet, with catastrophic longer-term implications for the global climate, WWF director general Marco Lambertini told Reuters on the sidelines of the U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

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"We need to be absolutely sure that by taking a short-term decision, we don't lock (ourselves) into an unsustainable future. If we do that we will pay an even bigger price than the war in Ukraine in the next decade," he said, praising countries that have reaffirmed commitments to speed up their green transition despite the economic impact of the Ukraine war.

Of the European Union's 27 member countries, 17 have broadenedthe scope of their plans to increase renewable energy since 2020. read more

However, climate activists reacted with dismay on Tuesday to a decision at a Group of Seven top industrial democracies summit, spurred partly by the energy crisis arising from the war in Ukraine, to grant a host of stays and exceptions to climate protection goals they had earlier set themselves. read more

Lambertini said there was a risk that pressing economicconsiderations related to the war could divert governments, companies and societies' attention from global warming issues, such as food insecurity and extreme weather events.

Food shortages were already a pressing issue before Russia's invasion, he said, and financial pressures on groups in vulnerable, poorer nations could also open the door to overfishing.

The number of overfished stocks globally has tripled in half a century, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

"That's a trend that needs to be countered because at the end of the day it will simply make things worse," Lambertini said. "Science has never been clearer: we have 10 years to fix the climate."

Outside the conference, Ocean Rebellion activist Sophie Miller, 50, echoed Lambertini's concerns and said it was important to remember climate change exacerbates the risk of armed conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said last year that in Somalia, for instance, droughts and floods were undermining food security, increasing competition over scarce resources and exacerbating existing community tensions.

"Climate change is going to get worse and there will be more wars and more conflicts," Miller said. "If we only focus on the result of climate change and not on the cause, we will not stop it from happening."

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Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira, Sergio Goncalves and Pedro Nunes in Lisbon; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Portugal-based multimedia correspondent reporting on politics, economics, the environment and daily news. Previous experience in local journalism in the UK., co-founded a project telling the stories of Portuguese-speakers living in London, and edited a youth-led news site.