BRUSSELS — The war in Ukraine is aggravating the painful effects of climate change, causing not only severe damage in Ukraine, but also distress in a wider circle that includes Africa and South Asia, according to John F. Kerry, the United States special presidential envoy for climate.
The war demonstrates how “climate change is a threat multiplier,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Wednesday.
When millions of people are forced to move to survive, whether in Syria, Sudan or Ukraine, that “is a cause of huge instability,” he said. And like climate change, the war is having a significant effect on strategic, health and food security, as well as on global energy.
“That’s a pretty big grouping of real threats that we’re already seeing play out in certain ways around the world,” he said.
In Ukraine, Mr. Kerry said, the Russian Army has shown “no restraint whatsoever with respect to civilian human life and the consequences of using certain kinds of weapons or cutting off certain supplies or dominating certain facilities.”
The destruction of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine this month, with the intensive flooding it caused, “has dislocated people in a similar fashion to the floods in Pakistan, and has a profound effect on health and people’s ability to move, to keep the hospitals working,” he said.
Mr. Kerry, a former secretary of state and presidential candidate, also referred to a conference being held in London on Wednesday about how to rebuild Ukraine. Once the war ends, he said, “that rebuilding is also going to have to involve serious reclamation of land” for agriculture. That is in no small part because the reduced grain supplies from Ukraine, and the resulting higher prices, have had a profound effect on Africa and the so-called Global South.
War and climate change are forcing many people to move, “because they feel they can’t live where they are, and they are willing to fight for access to a place where they can live,” Mr. Kerry said. The numbers of people taking dangerous and overloaded boats — such as the one that claimed hundreds of lives when it sank off the coast of Greece last week — will only increase with climate change, he said.
The world must move faster to reduce carbon emissions, he said, although he noted that China and India, which together produce nearly 40 percent of current global carbon emissions, are now moving at speed toward renewable energy.
Mr. Kerry also defended the American Inflation Reduction Act — which many Europeans regard as a set of unfair subsidies to lure in European industry — as a crucial step toward a better climate policy in the United States, one of the world’s greatest emitters of carbon.
“Europe should not ignore the reality” of the mutual benefits that American action can bring in terms of new technologies and reduced carbon emissions, he said, pointing to the Biden administration’s vow to reduce the country’s emissions at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
“We’re doing everything in our power to be a good actor on the global stage and live up to a 50 percent reduction, and that requires us to excite certain technologies at home,” Mr. Kerry said. “And we encourage others to do exactly the same thing.”
Mr. Kerry was in Brussels to meet with Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s foreign policy chief; Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general; and Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s climate chief and executive vice president.
In a joint statement, they said that “climate change and environmental degradation are an existential threat to the planet, and also have immediate, direct and growing negative implications for security and defense.”