Europe does not need more gas to replace that of Russia. It’s a climate catastrophe.

In five years, European countries hope to end dependence on Russian fossil fuels, and by the end of the year they plan to reduce their dependence on gas by two thirds Russian. If Europe follows through on these commitments, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could propel one of the fastest energy transitions in history.

The bigger question now is whether this is a transition out of oil and gas – or just out of Russia oil and gas.

Right now it looks like fossil fuels are winning. Oil companies in the United States are eagerly waiting for Europe to swap one fossil fuel for another and build more infrastructure on both sides of the Atlantic to transport oil and gas to Europe. And despite their climate promises, world leaders showed early support for building fossil fuel infrastructure.

During President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe for G7 and NATO meetings on Friday, the United States announced a new joint agreement with Europe that promises 15 billion cubic meters of new liquefied natural gas shipments. (LNG) this year. This will add to shipments already destined for Europe and replace about a quarter of the gas imported from Russia.

But the United States is not in charge. European countries are the ones facing the real choice between building new fossil fuel infrastructure or accelerating their clean energy investment schedule. And they could accelerate their transition away from fossil fuels by prioritizing climate-friendly solutions, like incentivizing energy efficiency, installing heat pumps and accelerating renewable permits. This week, two new reports from independent think tanks outline a viable path that does not replace Russian oil and gas with other fossil fuels.

A month after Russia invaded Ukraine, messages from the European Union have been mixed. Earlier this month, the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, included new LNG terminals and pipelines to import fossil fuels from other countries in its options for meeting energy demand. Despite this, he reaffirmed his commitment to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 55% below 1990 levels in just eight years.

It would definitely be a short-term consideration to speed up LNG terminals in Europe. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called it “madness” to ignore the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels when it has become abundantly clear that the world must stop building new infrastructure. “Fossil fuel addiction is mutually assured destruction,” he said on March 21. “Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply shortfall that they neglect or impose policies to reduce fossil fuel use.”

The European Union is second only to the United States to have the greatest impact on climate change since the Industrial Revolution, and the coming weeks may permanently reshape global energy policy. It’s far from certain, corn. EU members now have a choice: they can boost oil and gas from elsewhere, or they can undertake the most ambitious transition in history to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Europe is likely to choose fossil fuels

Energy prices may have risen steadily over the past year, but for now there is no immediate shortage of gas in Europe. Next winter will be the real test of whether Europe can survive without Russian gas, because that’s when heating buildings drives up gas demand. No country has more roller coasters than Germany, which depends on Russia for more than half of its gas imports, followed by Italy.

The European Commission has published an initial plan, dubbed RePowerEU, on how to weather the immediate crisis. One of the first measures advised by the European Commission was to increase gas storage before next winter to 80% of its capacity. The EU is looking to other countries for gas supplies.

But the EU needs infrastructure to process and transport all this gas, and the existing infrastructure will not be enough. According to German newspaper Deutsche Welle, there are 37 LNG terminals in EU member states, and none in Germany. Countries like Germany are planning new terminals, but those already under construction will not be completed for several years. A proposed LNG terminal in cities in northwestern Germany would not be built until 2026 and would meet up to 10% of the country’s gas demand. There is now talk of two new terminals planned in Germany in response to Russia’s war with Ukraine, a sign that countries are increasing their fossil fuel investments in response to this crisis.

It’s not really an energy revolution. Europe’s energy supply would largely remain the same in response to the crisis; it would simply come from other parts of the world, at a higher cost.

Defenders of the plan to boost LNG imports to Europe say it is the only way to fill the void left by Russian gas. As a senior White House administration official said in a Friday press call, the LNG deal is needed “in the very short term to keep people from getting cold this winter. and next winter before clean energy is deployed on a large scale”.

This approach has its detractors. “The measures needed to permanently reduce fossil gas consumption go hand in hand with what is needed to meet EU climate targets,” said Matthias Buck, director of German think tank Agora Energiewende. “The EU must now ensure that RePowerEU accelerates energy efficiency and the expansion of renewables to achieve energy sovereignty by 2027.”

Natural Resources Defense Council International Program Director Jake Schmidt says building new fossil fuel infrastructure would be foolish. “There is a lot of skepticism about whether or not Germany can build the import facilities as fast as they claim,” Schmidt said. “The gas installations will be commissioned at a time when they will not need this gas. And so you’re looking at a 30-year investment facility that has a lifespan of five to 10 years, max. It’s not a big saving.

Europe can get through this crisis without clinging to more fossil fuels. Seriously.

Two reports released this week by European think tanks say nearly all of Europe’s gas needs can be met through energy efficiency and exploring underutilized clean energy options. This would force the EU to make a concerted effort to reduce energy consumption. A report from Agora Energiewende, which advocates for Germany’s clean energy transition, suggests that it is possible to reduce overall EU gas consumption by 32% by 2027.

A second report by environmental NGOs Bellona, ​​Ember, E3G and Regulatory Assistance Project concludes that combining clean energy expansion with accelerated energy efficiency efforts would replace about two-thirds of Russian gas demand as soon as 2025.

Importantly, the report asserts that “security of supply and reducing Russia’s gas dependence does not require the construction of new EU gas import infrastructure such as LNG terminals” . NGOs argue that this can even be done without extending the life of nuclear power or increasing the use of coal in the next few years.

Some reforms suggested by the report require more accountability and oversight for the oil and gas industry, including doing more to prevent methane leaks throughout their operations, as this wasted fuel could be saved and used. Other solutions are quite simple but require collective action. These are relatively minor behavioral changes, like consumers turning their heat down a degree or two, installing smart thermostats, sealing drafty windows, and installing LED light bulbs.

These measures seem small, but represent a lot, according to Agora Energiewende. For example, the report states that energy efficiency and the replacement of gas boilers in buildings running on fossil fuels could reduce gas dependence by more than a third by 2027, or 480 terawatt hours. Heat pumps – a technology that can be used to heat or cool buildings – are one of the modern alternatives to the inefficient gas boiler. Industrial operations could also become more efficient, so some similar energy-saving measures could yield even greater gains.

In total, the report claims that of the 3,800 terawatt hours of gas the EU consumed in 2020, around a third could be displaced in five years.

Then there are the political levers. Governments can accelerate permitting for proposed clean energy projects offshore and onshore. In the meantime, the European Commission has already announced a plan to double the rate of heat pump installations by this winter. There are other policies underway that can ensure that the EU is less dependent on fossil fuels. France, for example, has announced that it will end subsidies for new gas heaters and instead increase subsidies for heat pumps.

Beyond energy efficiency, there are other policies that help accelerate the transition to clean energy. The European Union is considering a draft regulation that imposes a levy on imports from countries with lagging climate policies, constituting the first carbon border tax in the world. The idea behind the tax is to discourage companies from relocating to countries with more lax climate policies.

The common thread running through many of these solutions is that more emphasis needs to be placed on energy efficiency. Leadership on many of these measures will not come from the United States. The United States has yet to pass comprehensive legislation to address climate change, and Biden’s hopes of investing in clean energy have stalled in Congress. The United States will not lead, but Europe still can.

Mary I. Bruner