War rocks Europe’s path to energy independence and climate goals

BERLIN (AP) — Before Russia’s war in UkraineEurope’s most pressing energy policy goal was to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Now officials are obsessed with rapidly reducing the continent’s dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. — and that means friction between security and climate goals, at least in the short term.

Weaning off Russian energy supplies As soon as possible, Europe will need to burn more coal and build more pipelines and terminals to import fossil fuels from elsewhere.

This dramatic change comes amid rising fuel costs. for motorists, homeowners and businesses, and as political leaders reassess the geopolitical risks of relying so heavily on energy from Russia.

In 2021, the European Union imported about 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, an economic relationship that officials thought would prevent hostilities but is instead financing them.

While some call for an immediate boycott of all Russian oil and gas, the EU plans to reduce imports of Russian gas by two thirds by the end of this year, and eliminate them completely by 2030.

This “will not be easy,” said Paolo Gentiloni, the EU’s top economic official. But, he added, “it can be done.”

In the short term, end energy ties with Russia puts the focus on securing alternative sources of fossil fuels. But in the longer term, geopolitical and price pressures stoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine may hasten Europe’s transition away from oil, gas and coal.

Experts say the war has served as a reminder that renewable energy is not only good for the climate, but also for national security. That could help accelerate the development of wind and solar energy, as well as boost energy conservation and efficiency initiatives.

The EU has committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Analysts and officials say those goals, enshrined in the EU, can still be met.

Russia’s rapid pursuit of energy independence 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 renewable energy and energy efficiency in Europe,” Zachmann said.

Plans that would not have been contemplated just a few months ago are now being actively discussed, such as operating coal plants in Germany beyond 2030, which had previously been seen as a deadline.

German Vice Chancellor and Energy Minister Robert Habeck said “there should be no taboos.”

The Czech government has made the same calculation on the life extension of coal-fired power plants.

“We will need it until we find alternative sources,” Czech energy security commissioner Václav Bartuška told the Seznam Zprávy news site. “Until then, even the greenest government will not phase out coal.”

One of Europe’s top priorities is to buy more liquefied natural gas that can be delivered by ship. On Friday, US and European officials announced a plan under which the US and other nations will increase liquefied gas exports to Europe this year, although US officials could not say exactly which countries will provide the extra power this year.

Germany, which lacks import terminals to convert LNG back to gas when it leaves the ship, is pushing two multibillion-dollar projects off the North Sea coast.

The war has also revived Spain’s interest in extending a gas pipeline through the Pyrenees to France. The €450 million ($500 million) project was abandoned in 2019 after France showed little interest and a European feasibility study deemed it unprofitable and unnecessary. If built, it would allow gas imported into Spain and Portugal as LNG to reach other parts of Europe.

In Britain, which is no longer part of the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it is “time to take back control of our energy supply.”

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 it is incompatible with Britain’s climate goals.

Some within the ruling Conservative Party and the broader political right want the British government to backtrack on its commitment to reach net zero by 2050, a promise made less than six months ago at a global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Conservative Party co-chair Oliver Dowden said last week that “Brits want to see a bit of Conservative pragmatism, not net-zero dogma.”

However, the shock waves of the war cut both ways.

Sharply higher gas and electricity prices, and a desire to be less dependent on Russia, are increasing pressure to expand local renewable energy development and boost conservation.

The International Energy Agency recently published 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 about 6% of what Europe imports from Russia.

At German rooftop solar panel company Zolar, CEO Alex Melzer said there has been a flurry of inquiries from potential customers since the war began.

“With the Ukraine crisis, we’ve really seen people wonder if Germany is going to stop buying oil and gas from Russia and what’s going to happen to our power and energy system,” he told The Associated Press.

Melzer said customers are less interested in saving the planet than saving money, despite an initial investment of 20,000 euros ($22,000). But it amounts to the same thing: a reduction in the use of fossil fuels and, therefore, in emissions.

“Goal accomplished, super,” he said.

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Aritz Parra reported from Madrid and Jill Lawless from London.

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