Initial assessment: Has the Ukraine Recovery Conference 2024 played out favourably for the green agenda?

Posted on 18 Jun 2024
Kyiv/Vienna, 17 June 2024

Ukraine Recovery Conferences (URCs) aim at increasing international support for recovery, reconstruction, reform, and modernisation of Ukraine – an opportunity for WWF and other environmental NGOs to bring climate and biodiversity aspects onto the agenda. After Lugano in 2022 and London in 2023, Berlin was the host of URC 2024 on 11th and 12th of June with a record of 3.400 participants. This time, WWF did not only play the role of an observer but also actor. Together with other civil society organisations (CSOs) we were given the opportunity of engaging in much higher numbers than before as participants, as speakers on panels and debates, and as knowledgeable counterparts in coffee break talks with high-level governmental and private sector actors. WWF had consistently advocated for high civil society involvement and it seems URC organisers had followed our advice.

The principle of multi-level governance, the value of a whole-of-society approach and of local community engagement were repeatedly highlighted during the conference. This appreciation for civil society at large is among the positive signals of the conference. Another one is a new emphasis on decarbonisation.

Interactive session at URC24 on the “local dimension”, (c) Irene Lucius/WWF-CEE
Interactive session at URC24 on the “local dimension”, (c) Irene Lucius/WWF-CEE

Ukraine´s heavily concentrated, fossil-fuel based power plants have been under huge attack by the aggressor. It therefore might not come at a surprise that the CSO call for a shift to decentralised renewable energy systems was much more clearly echoed by panel speakers than in previous years. Renewable energy facilities don´t only help to meet international climate obligations and wean off the country from Russia´s hydrocarbon reserves, but they are also less prominent targets for military attacks. Energy resilience became the new buzz word.

However, with over 50% of Ukraine´s heating capacity destroyed and the next winter on the horizon, securing people´s immediate well-being seemed much more urgent and pertinent than talking about such issues as environmental safeguards for road infrastructure or the need to strengthen the country's protected areas network. These topics were absent from session agendas with one exception: a panel on “Green Recovery and European Green Deal for Ukraine - environmentally friendly recovery and growth” that announced the launch of the Platform for Action on the Green Recovery. It aims to provide expertise for Ukraine's green recovery and had been signed only minutes earlier by the founding partners UNECE, OECD, and UNEP.

Signing ceremony of the Platform for Action on the Green Recovery involving Olha Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine and Virginius Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries among others, (c) Irene Lucius/WWF-CEE

At this environment panel dedicated to the environment, the German Federal Ministry of Ecology, Environmental Protection, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection Steffi Lempke, and Margot Wallström, former Swedish Foreign Minister stressed that Intact ecosystems, not just grey infrastructure are needed in order to provide essential services to people; that environmental issues must be dealt with immediately and cannot be postponed to a later stage; or that Ukraine features a wealth of rare species and habitats in need of conservation. Virginius Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, another panel speaker, highlighted the value of environmental impact assessments and the Do No Significant Harm Principle as strategic priorities. However, these critically important messages were only heard by a hand-full of conference participants that attended this session at the very end of a long conference day.

A real success and asset of this year´s URC was the local dimension and the Recovery Forum, a string of panels, lighting talks and poster presentations that put a spotlight on needs, experiences, and solutions for recovery at local level and enabled contacts with businesses interested in getting engaged. Although sustainable development was not explicitly mentioned by speakers, discussions did touch such needs as integrated district development plans to promote green spaces, the value of renewable energy, or the opportunity of using recycled building materials. WWF-Ukraine´s Regenerate Ukraine Director Valeriia Kolomiiets gave an intervention on greening road infrastructure and how WWF and other CSOs can play a role in Ukraine´s green recovery.

Valeriia Kolomiets (left), WWF-Ukraine Regenerate Ukraine Director, talking at the Recovery Forum of URC 2024
Valeriia Kolomiets (left), WWF-Ukraine Regenerate Ukraine Director, talking at the Recovery Forum of URC 2024, (c) Irene Lucius/WWF-CEE

Nevertheless, some essential voices in these debates were missing: representatives of Ukraine’s State Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development, whose top management had resigned one day prior to conference start, and representatives of the Ministry for Infrastructure, most notably the new minister, who had not been appointed yet. This left conference participants puzzled about who will actually facilitate a sustainable bottom-up recovery.

Another aspect consistently mentioned as an obstacle to positive change was the lack of capacity with so many Ukrainians internally displaced, emigrated, or fighting in the army but also due to the fact that some skills for a modernised economy are not yet sufficiently developed. In response, the Skills Alliance was announced during the Conference. It aims at building the capacity of 180.000 Ukrainians living inside and outside the country. Environmental CSOs plan to work with the Alliance to advocate for the inclusion of sustainability aspects in training programmes and development of green skills in general.

In addition, the European Commission´s announcement at the URC that EU accession talks are expected to begin by the end of June raises hope that the environmental EU acquis will be pursued with higher urgency. 

URC organisers were proud of the outcome: more than 100 international agreements were signed during the third Ukraine Recovery Conference and over USD 1 billion was raised for the energy sector. Green CSOs were able to present themselves as resourceful actors in Ukraine´s recovery in line with the Joint Statement issued on the eve of the conference. The Environmental Platform for Ukraine was launched with an initial funding of 5 million EUR pledged by the German government. The expectation of WWF and CSO partners to see  environmental aspects featuring more prominently throughout the programme was not met, though. 

Representatives of the Build Ukraine Back Better Platform who prepared and signed  the Joint Statement
Representatives of the Build Ukraine Back Better Platform who prepared and signed the Joint Statement.

Next year´s URC will be in Italy. Edmondo Cirielli, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, gave reasons for optimism when he outlined initial topics for the conference in 2025. In addition to the four dimensions of the Berlin Conference – EU accession, the local level, the human dimension, and mobilising private sector support - we can expect a spotlight on energy resilience, Ukraine´s cultural heritage, sustainable infrastructure and sustainable development. WWF and CSO partners will approach the organisers with recommendations on how to make the Italian URC the one that will finally give the environment the space it deserves in Ukraine´s recovery discussions.


Valeriia Kolomiiets, Regenerate Ukraine Director, WWF-Ukraine

Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF-CEE