Stopping the world funding Putin’s war

Richard Branson sitting at his home on Necker Island
Virgin Galactic
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Published on 20 April 2022

A brutal war has been raging in Europe for two months now. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine continues to cause much bloodshed and suffering, especially among civilians. I, and many business leaders I know around the world, believe that not enough is being done to support Ukrainians in their fight to end the aggression and prevent Russia stealing large chunks of their country. Or worse.

With every day that passes, more Ukrainians are fighting and dying – for their own freedom, but also for the freedom of all of us. They are fighting a war for humanity – we have to show up for them. The future of a sovereign, self-determined Ukraine is inextricably linked to the future of liberal democracy itself. Given these high stakes, Western countries need to take the threat much more seriously and rapidly ramp up their support. Citizens must play their part too.

Firstly, a massive increase in military aid is needed and NATO governments and others should immediately authorise the transfer of weapons Ukraine has asked for. The world must not stand by and watch as Russian troops flatten city after city.

Secondly, it is preposterous for Western countries to be sending billions of dollars to Russia for fossil fuels. Importing Russian oil and gas is funding Putin’s war and has got to stop immediately.

As a business leader, it’s clear we can do this without damaging our countries or economies. One simple way is for all Western democracies to reduce use of oil and gas by 10% over the next 12 months, compared to the previous pre-COVID year. For instance, if all European countries were to do this for oil, it would reduce European total oil demand from 14.87 million barrels a day to 13.383 million – a reduction of 1.487 million barrels a day. That would free up enough fuel to cut 550,000 barrels a day that Germany currently buys from Russia and leave a further 937,000 barrels a day to sort out the needs of Poland, Slovakia, Finland and Lithuania, and other EU importers of Russian oil. Were the US to join in this European effort, the impact would be even greater. A similar set of measures has been suggested to reduce consumption of natural gas.

As recent IEA research shows, introducing emergency measures could cut global oil demand by 2.7 million barrels a day within four months - read the IEA's 10-point plan to cut oil use. There are a variety of different ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption and governments can choose which actions they take.

One obvious option is the introduction of speed limits. If IEA members were to get behind a reduction in speed limits by just 10 miles per hour it would save around 600,000 barrels per day from cars and trucks, more than enough to replace the 550,000 barrels that Germany imports from Russia. Several European NGOs, led by the European Transport Safety Association, have just written to the EU suggesting cutting speed limits. It’s a no-brainer, especially for Germany where thousands of miles of Autobahn remain without any speed limit at all.

On top of this, businesses could cut back on their least profitable operations. Individuals could turn down their air conditioning or heating or share the occasional car journey. It’s surprising what a massive difference some of these small changes can make.

Meanwhile, as I wrote recently, the clean energy revolution must be accelerated by every Western country, so that we’re no longer dependent on fossil fuels and move faster towards net zero. This too will dramatically reduce what everyone is paying for their fuel.

As my fellow B Team leaders and I stated: "Now is not the time for neutrality. Russia’s invasion is unprovoked and unacceptable. Evidence of atrocities committed by Russian troops on Ukrainian civilians, including women and children, is mounting."

Monumental tasks such as this require collaboration between the public and private sector. The alternative is that the war, and the suffering of Ukraine’s people, continues indefinitely.