Climate must come first as Europe reduces dependence on Russian fuels | News

The war in Ukraine has sparked a scramble among European countries to reduce their dependence on Russian fuel imports. But as EU and UK leaders try to rethink their territories’ energy landscapes, concerns are growing that the plans will not do enough to protect the environment.

At the beginning of March, the European Commission set out its “RePowerEU” projects reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year and become completely independent of Russian fossil fuels “well before” 2030. The UK is much less dependent on Russian gas, but is still affected by the price increases that followed the Ukraine conflict. The government has drawn up its own “British energy security strategy”, a roadmap destined to increase the country’s energy independence and pledged to phase out Russian oil and coal by the end of 2022 and imports of Russian gas “as soon as possible thereafter”.

These plans aim to cut off funding for the Kremlin’s war effort and limit Vladimir Putin’s ability to disrupt the continent’s energy supply. But some experts fear that hasty decisions in the short term could lock the EU and the UK into long-term dependence on environmentally damaging energy sources. UN Secretary General António Guterres said it was “madness” that the conflict in Ukraine could see countries become “so consumed by the immediate deficit in fossil fuel supply that they neglect or impose policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels”.

European gas imports

In 2021, 155 billion m3 Russian gas has been piped to the EU, representing about 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply. In its RePowerEU proposals, the European Commission wants to accelerate a clean energy transition by reducing the bloc’s energy needs and using new energy sources to replace Russian gas. This involves installing more solar panels and heat pumps, as well as accelerating wind projects and improving grid infrastructure. The proposals also include energy savings through improving the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings.

However, a major part of the plan is also to diversify gas supplies – replacing Russian gas with gas from elsewhere. The EC wants to double the amount of biomethane produced from agricultural waste and import significant quantities of fossil gas from non-Russian partners.

This includes importing more shale gas from the United States, with a deal signed at the end of March for an additional 15 billion m3 This year. The deal also commits the EU to buying an additional 50 billion m3 gas every year through 2030. The EC says it will work with member states to expedite approval of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) import infrastructure, including “onshore facilities and associated pipelines “. Germany also recently announced its intention to build two new LNG ports – the country is particularly dependent on gas imports due to its huge chemical sector as well as its decision to move away from nuclear energy following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

The solution is a concerted crisis effort to expand renewable energy and improve energy efficiency

Fabian Hein, Agora Energiewende

But diversifying gas supplies cannot be a long-term solution, according to Bram Claeys, from the energy policy think tank, the Regulatory Assistance Project, because “it only perpetuates our vulnerability to price shocks and geopolitical risks.” And, of course, it would also jeopardize climate policies and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Claeys is the co-author of a report developed by researchers from four energy-focused NGOs, which claims that the EU can completely reduce its dependence on Russian gas by 2025, without the need for new gas infrastructure. The report proposes that two-thirds of Russian gas imports could be offset by energy efficiency and electrification measures, and increased deployment of wind and solar assets. Remaining energy needs could be met by filling unused capacity in existing infrastructure with imports of non-Russian gas.

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“We can actually significantly accelerate our [reduction of] Russian gas imports, faster than European plans currently foresee,” says Claeys. “And without the need to build new fossil fuel and gas import infrastructure such as new LNG terminals or new gas pipelines.”

“And while the climate impacts of shipping [US] LNG versus Russian gas could be beneficial, the impact of fracking on the American environment is of course very, very concerning – both from a climate, health and environmental perspective,” he adds. “So it’s not the bridge we want to be on – it might be a short-term lifeline, but certainly not transitional fuel we want to keep using.”

Fabien Hein, an energy analyst at think tank Agora Energiewende says the narrative that natural gas can help Europe’s clean energy transition is “collapsed”. In its own report on “reclaiming Europe’s energy sovereignty,” Agora highlighted 15 actions it says will help the EU meet its climate commitments while reducing gas consumption.

IPCC says now is the last moment to act to avert a catastrophic climate crisis

Mari Martiskainen, University of Sussex

Given the current unprecedented political situation, Hein notes that the debate around Europe’s energy future “is quite intense and not particularly structured.” He urges policy makers not to overlook environmental concerns when making decisions on Europe’s future energy landscape. “It is crucial to take both immediate and structural measures to achieve energy sovereignty,” he says. “Climate protection and energy security go hand in hand – the solution is a concerted crisis effort to expand renewable energy and improve energy efficiency in buildings and industry.”

Another consequence of the EU’s drive to secure huge new amounts of gas is that it becomes more difficult for poorer countries to meet their own emissions targets, notes Caroline Kuzemko, an energy transitions and climate change policy expert based at the University of Warwick, UK. “What he did was tighten up the global gas market,” she explains. “If you tell other parts of the world to get rid of coal now, gas is an option for them. But if they can’t get their hands on gas and gas is so expensive, well [they’ll prefer] coal.’

The image of the United Kingdom

The UK Energy Security Strategy also commits to increasing clean energy projects, with investments in offshore wind, hydrogen and solar power. But his proposals to build new nuclear reactors, increase oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and undertake a new review of fracking – which has been banned since 2019 – have been criticized. And unlike the RePowerEU plan, the UK government’s proposals offer no new provisions for reducing energy demand, for example by insulating buildings.

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“Trying to solve the problem – as the government seems to be doing – by only thinking about supply is in my opinion ridiculous,” says Kuzemko. She adds that while the plan offers potential benefits in terms of decarbonization and energy security, it “does nothing for affordability.”

In a statement published online, several energy experts from the University of Sussex described the focus on energy supply rather than energy demand reduction as “a huge missed opportunity to provide immediate relief to families suffering from the cost of living crisis.

Notably, given today’s high energy prices, the government’s plan sees no real push for more onshore wind, although this offers the cheapest electricity. But there is a significant commitment to nuclear power with plans to build eight new nuclear reactors. Nuclear facilities are expensive long-term projects and critics have pointed to the difficulties surrounding the Hinkley Point C reactor – currently nine years behind schedule and billions of pounds over budget – to illustrate concerns about energy dependence atomic.

“For me, nuclear is a concern in terms of affordability. It’s just an extremely expensive form of electricity,” Kuzemko says. She points out that while the cost of electricity from nuclear power plants is estimated to be around double that of onshore wind, these calculations do not fully account for decommissioning costs.Current figures put the cost of decommissioning the UK’s existing nuclear infrastructure at over £130 billion over the next 120 years, although Kuzemko notes that these estimates continue to rise. “It’s even more expensive than we already think,” she says. ‘Why would you tie the UK consumer to this long-term electricity cost burden? I just don’t understand.

British government proposals on fracking and oil and gas extraction in the North Sea have also raised alarm bells, just three days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published his “now or never”. report on limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Scientists estimate that to reach the 1.5°C target, nearly 60% current global oil and gas reserves must remain in the ground, which means that new projects are difficult to justify.

“The UK energy security strategy focuses on securing the energy supply and engaging the UK in expensive and polluting long-term options like nuclear exploration and more fossil fuels,” said Mari Martiskainen. , an energy policy researcher at the University of Sussex. “The IPCC has signaled that now is the last moment to act to avert a catastrophic climate crisis. Pushing for more fossil fuel exploration in the North Sea would lock us into increasingly expensive fossil fuels for years to come.

“The fact is, 1.5C is a global thing – it’s not a British thing. And the United Kingdom should absolutely achieve its objectives because it is a historic emitter. And it’s a rich country,” says Kuzemko. “And if they can’t deal with really important issues like how to get rid of embedded fossil fuels like gas – if they can’t deal with that with the institutions they have and the resources they have, so how do earth can you say somewhere else in the world do it? »

Mary I. Bruner