Ukraine’s recovery will also be an example of sustainability – but don’t leave Ukraine out of that recovery

In Part 2/3, we considered the inability of politics and consumer behaviour to move at the speed and systems level the climate and sustainability emergency needs. For Ukraine and the world, the most progressive and bold businesses, combined with finance and braver politicians and activists, will need to show that sustainability works on all fronts – across the environment, for people and economically – to pull policymaking, the public and the rest of industry into alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Part 1/3 considered how the whole world can maximize the Ukraine 2.0 vision, built on the research and convening of Razom We Stand. Josh Matthews reports.

When discussing this series of pieces, several troubling accounts emerged – with regard to consulting firms most of all. Ready with their own plans for Ukraine’s post-war recovery and sustainable development, some of the most high-profile firms appear to be leaving out a key stakeholder – Ukraine itself, and especially the country’s experts, NGOs and businesses. While we cannot name any individuals or companies, if this resonates in your discussions, partnerships, and organisations  then a change of approach is required.

To realize the fullest ambition of Ukraine’s recovery and chance to exemplify sustainable development, Ukraine must be trusted to lead. Global collaboration, as Parts 1 and 2 covered, is critical. But if Ukraine is left out of its own recovery, this will undermine its potential.

We know what needs to happen – the 2023 Ukraine Recovery Conference helped add further clarity

We know the numbers and have the road maps for addressing the climate and sustainability emergency. We largely know how to decarbonize and transition industry, power, buildings, transport and agriculture. We know the speed and systems level of change required, that we’ve so far failed to achieve. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are each built on detailed road mapping, and cover all environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, which can work together in a win-win-win fashion. Ukraine 2.0 will only succeed if it is led by Ukraine’s industries, entrepreneurs, politicians (national and local), NGOs and people – supported by global finance, politics and industry.

This summer’s Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC) announced over $3bn in World Bank loan guarantees. But in the immediate term, Ukraine needs $14bn from international donors to get through 2023. Anna Bjerde, managing director for operations at the World Bank, noted the need for ‘essential social expenditures’, such as pension payments, healthcare and salaries for public sector workers, as well as funding for urgent infrastructure repair. The widely quoted number from the World Bank, estimating the cost of repairing the damage from the first year of war, is $400bn. That was before the collapse of the dam at Nova Kakhovka. Ukraine’s government, however, has estimated and championed since mid-2022 that $750 billion will be required for nationwide reconstruction.

Blackrock and JP Morgan, two US financial firms, among others, are helping Ukraine secure private sector investment. They and their financial peers must ensure their work in Ukraine is built on genuine collaboration – it will be key to the jobs and innovation needed for a positive and sustainable Ukraine recovery, as well as the value chain and systems-level change that can be an important part and result of that positive recovery. A just energy transition, referring back to Parts 1 and 2, can typify that change. Ukraine will need its individuals, its small and medium businesses, and its industry to all build and undergo their versions of a sustainable transition.

Support from the boldest financial, political and industry leaders becomes especially vital when considering that a 2024 US may be less supportive

From the geopolitical angle, more and more of Ukraine’s allies are agreeing it should be on a fast track for NATO membership after the war. President Zelenskyy presented a vision to the URC of how a post-war Ukraine could exemplify security, stability, democracy, prosperity and sustainability. He outlined how Ukraine could provide grain to 600 million people, as well as lithium, fertilizers, decarbonized energy and more. The NATO summit which followed the URC, held in Vilnius, Lithuania, all but confirmed those reasonable points – crucially achieving more enthusiasm from the US and France.

The war is also unlikely to end with a trustworthy peace treaty. Ukrainian refugees currently number over six million – and there’s a question of how many will return? And whether the men who haven’t left may eventually join their family and friends. Over a million soldiers will need mental and physical rehabilitation. Global financial, industrial and political capital must be ready to help Ukraine’s people recover and prosper – but it’s those people and communities that will know what that recovery needs. It’s essential to listen to them. A sustainable transition must work hand in hand with social sustainability factors like wellbeing, mental health, equality, and fair and resilient institutions.

EU membership and a clear pathway to NATO will both be important to establish a level of trust and security for the Ukraine government and its institutions that has historically been lacking. Ukraine will also need to earn trust through transparency of data and road mapping – in energy and infrastructure, as it has earned global trust on the battlefield. That will include clarity in energy markets, procurement plans and much more that is critical to sustainability. While that trust will help Ukraine control its recovery and realize its ambition beyond re-developing the old, foreign governments, finance and business must be open to envisioning a new Ukraine, and to lending it their trust. That trust will undoubtedly lead to the best outcomes for all.

The world must work to de-risk sustainable transitions and the investments Ukraine needs

As well as projects and value chain initiatives, which objectively appeal on a financial level, those of us advocating for sustainability including in Ukraine’s recovery need to value and articulate clearly, among much else, the eternally difficult ‘risk of missing out’. In the minds of most sustainability professionals and advocates is the idea that it is better to be ahead of the curve rather than frantically reacting to catch up. But we need to make that case equally clear to finance, policymakers and industry. We can then better target and propose the right private–public partnerships and blended investments. We know regulation and consumer behaviour will eventually change. But right now, the speed and systems change we need has to come from elsewhere.

However, that’s not an excuse to give up and accept the limitations of our existing global systems – financial, political or industrial. Think of a literal definition of the word “sustainability”: To be able to continue. But more importantly, to continue well. Continuously looking to improve. For people and the planet. An ambition that would be welcomed in Ukraine and around the world.

Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals is challenge enough for the wealthiest countries in peacetime. If Ukraine is not trusted to lead its own recovery, that challenge may become insurmountable.


About Josh Matthews: Recently the Chief Sustainability Officer and Practice Leader at HFS Research—having built its sustainability research and advisory practice from scratch, while leading the energy, utilities, and supply chain team, and embedding sustainability through HFS’ industry, technology, and business coverage. Speaker at COP26 and other sustainability and industry events. Project and standalone engagements with Fortune 100 CEOs and various global leadership teams. Former Cambridge City Councillor and shadow cabinet member for climate change, environment, and the city centre. Approved parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats. Former Chair and now partnerships lead for the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists. Graduate of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering (MPhil) and Loughborough Chemical Engineering (MEng). Former Process Engineer at TotalEnergies and Visiting Scholar at UC Santa Barbara, publishing work in the Chemical Engineering & Technology journal.


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