In 2021, the European Union imported about 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, reports the Associated Press. But now EU officials “are fixated on rapidly reducing the continent’s reliance on Russian oil and natural gas — and that means friction between security and climate goals, at least in the short term.
“To wean itself from Russian energy supplies as quickly as possible, Europe will need to burn more coal and build more pipelines and terminals to import fossil fuels from elsewhere….”
[T]he EU plans to reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of this year, and to eliminate them altogether before 2030… In the near-term, ending energy ties with Russia puts the focus on securing alternative sources of fossil fuels. But longer term, the geopolitical and price pressures stoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine may actually accelerate Europe’s transition away from oil, gas and coal. Experts say the war has served as a reminder that renewable energy isn’t just good for the climate, but also for national security. That could help speed up the development of wind and solar power, as well as provide a boost to conservation and energy-efficiency initiatives….
The rapid pursuit of energy independence from Russia will likely require “a slight increase” in carbon emissions, said George Zachmann, an energy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. But “in the long term, the effect will be that we will see more investment in renewables and energy efficiency in Europe,” Zachmann said.
Plans that wouldn’t have been contemplated just a few months ago are now being actively discussed, such as running coal plants in Germany beyond 2030, which had previously been seen as an end date. Germany’s vice chancellor and energy minister, Robert Habeck, said there should be “no taboos.” The Czech government has made the same calculation about extending the life of coal power plants. “We will need it until we find alternative sources,” Czech energy security commissioner Václav Bartuska, told the news site Seznam Zprávy. “Until that time, even the greenest government will not phase out coal….”
In Britain, which is no longer part of the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s “time to take back control of our energy supplies.” Britain will phase out the small amount of oil it imports from Russia this year. More significantly, Johnson has signaled plans to approve new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, to the dismay of environmentalists, who say that is incompatible with Britain’s climate targets. Some within the governing Conservative Party and the wider political right want the British government to retreat on its commitment to reach net zero by 2050, a pledge made less than six months ago at a global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland….
Yet the shock waves from the war cut both ways. Sharply higher gas and electricity prices, and the desire to be less dependent on Russia, are increasing pressure to expand the development of home-grown renewables and to propel conservation. The International Energy Agency recently released a 10-point plan for Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by a third within a year. Simply lowering building thermostats by an average of one degree Celsius during the home-heating season would save 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, or roughly 6% of what Europe imports from Russia.
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