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NATO and its allies avoided sanctioning Russian energy over Ukraine. Oil prices are hitting record highs anyway

March 2, 2022, 10:18 AM UTC

For a week, NATO and its allies have been piling sanctions on Russia in retaliation for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite energy exports being the primary driver of Russia’s economy, the retaliatory measures have mostly left Russia’s oil and gas operations alone.

In some cases, the U.S. and its allies have even made explicit allowances for the continuation of normalcy in Russia’s energy business.

On Monday, the U.S., Japan, and the EU froze Russia’s foreign reserve holdings, restricting Russia’s central bank from accessing its overseas holdings except for when it needs funds for energy sales. That’s because the world still relies on Russian energy for fuel.

Despite having a door open to trade oil and gas with Moscow, many foreign oil firms are still opting to pull out of operations with Russia, erring heavily on the side of caution. In the past week, BP, Shell, and Exxon have all announced plans to abandon their joint venture projects in Russia, walking away from billions of dollars in investments.

And on Tuesday, the Kremlin made it clear that any Western oil major that wants to ditch its Russian counterpart would do so at a loss.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told a government meeting that Moscow is preparing a law that would temporarily ban foreign investors from selling Russian assets. Any oil majors that leave now, will simply have to abandon their operations without offloading their assets.

Meanwhile, Russian oil majors could be reaping the benefits of higher oil and gas prices, which have skyrocketed on the back of Putin’s war with Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the international Brent benchmark reached a seven-year high of $107.26. The same day, the U.S. and 60 of its allies agreed to release 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves to cool the market. But that’s a lame maneuver. The U.S. alone consumes 20 million barrels per day.

When it comes to easing supply constraints, Russia still exerts influence through its alliance with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Although the cartel of oil producers will announce an increase in supply today, analysts expect it will be in line with OPEC’s months-long scheduling.

The cartel of OPEC Plus, which includes Russia, has been gradually increasing oil output on a monthly basis since August, targeting an eventual return to pre-pandemic production volumes. U.S. President Joe Biden has frequently called on the cartel to escalate the ramp-up and pump more oil, as higher oil costs create inflationary pressure, but OPEC has refused.

There’s some irony that allies granted Russian energy an exemption from sanctions to spare themselves from higher fuel fees, yet oil prices are surging anyway. The upshot, however, is that allies are now accelerating plans to make their energy supplies greener and achieve greater energy independence.

All it took was a war.

Eamon Barrett
eamon.barrett@fortune.com
@eamonbarrett49

CARBON COPY

The IPCC’s bombshell reminder

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report on the global warming crisis Monday, warning of a yawning gap between the speed at which temperatures are rising and the rate at which humans are adapting. In short: We’re not moving fast enough. The 3,675-page tome says the breakneck speed of global warming has left little time for global mitigation efforts to catch up, before “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity” is sealed shut. Bloomberg

World enough and time

New research from Bank of America shows how quickly the world is depleting Earth’s finite resources, such as rare earth, fresh water, and clean air. According to BofA, the majority of global freshwater supplies will be depleted by 2040 if current trends continue. Meanwhile, a shortage of fertilizer could hit global food supplies as soon as 2030. Fortune

What’s in a name?

California is debating legislation that would instruct local meteorological authorities to begin naming heat waves, much in the same way that the U.S. currently names hurricanes. If passed, California would be the first state in the U.S. to start naming heat waves. The idea behind the motion is that naming heat waves will help residents grasp the severity of the intense weather patterns, which are growing more common worldwide. Municipalities in Spain and Greece plan to start giving heat waves names this year, too. The Guardian

Solar lilies

South Korea has committed to building a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, which will mean massively revamping the nation’s fossil-fuel–hungry power sector. But the peninsula nation suffers from land scarcity, which makes it difficult to develop green energy resources, like wind and hydro. Without much land, South Korea is investing more in floating solar farms—slinging together constellations of solar panels that drift like lily pads in a lake. Bloomberg

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Climate change: What we will need to spend, and what we will need to change, to reach net zero by Hamid Samandari and Mekala Krishnan

Giant fans made by this Swiss startup are sucking planet-warming CO2 right out of the sky by Bernhard Warner 

Plastic credits alone won’t save our planet by Laura Peano 

BP risks $25 billion hit from fire sale of Russia assets as Putin’s economy teeters on the brink by Christiaan Hetzner

Green orgs accuse oil and gas industry of ‘taking advantage’ of Russian invasion of Ukraine by Nicole Goodkind

Gas prices are soaring in the U.S. and Europe. Here’s how much you could end up paying by Carmela Chirinos

CLOSING NUMBER

3.6 billion

The IPCC’s new mega-report on climate change is chock-full of facts, stats, and figures. But if you’re only going to flag one, maybe it should be that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people today are living in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to climate change. That’s about 45% of the world’s population who will suffer severely from flooding, drought, heat, and other extreme weather events. The good news at least is that the IPCC defines vulnerability as a lack of capacity to adapt. That capacity, in some cases, can be enhanced with investment and resources—but not enough of that is going where it’s needed.

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