energy

Opinion: Why is it so hard to rely less on Russian gas?

European world leaders and Russia celebrate during the opening ceremony of the gas pipeline Nordstream 1 in 2011. Photo credit: Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

While the EU and other European countries continue to claim how seriously they are taking the climate crisis, they continue to import large quantities of Russian gas.

This is of course bad considering the climate impacts and is now especially concerning in the wake of the threat of war between Russia and Ukraine. How can we expect countries whose economies are reliant on gas from Russia to take meaningful action against that country?

We knew when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 that Europe’s reliance on Russian gas was a serious problem, but next to no changes have been made since. In fact, you can easily argue it has become worse since countries, led by Germany, welcomed the controversial gas pipeline Nordstream 2 transporting even more gas from Russia to Germany (however, as Russia started moving troops into Ukraine, Germany have said that the permit for operating the pipeline cannot be given under current circumstances). 

Easing our reliance on gas

The best way to lessen our reliance on Russian gas is overall to lessen our use of gas. It has become evident dealing with the current soaring cost of gas across Europe that it is not easy to determine where we get our gas from as energy companies will always buy the cheapest gas on the market. And it is right that the focus in Europe has been on phasing out coal, and gas can in some cases serve as a bridge fuel.

But there is a big IF here. It is no good to get rid of coal if we are just to replace it with new gas power plants. As coal usage is declining we are building new gas infrastructure and locking ourselves into decades of gas reliance, which in return allows Putin to strengthen his grip on Europe.

In Germany, the situation is even more perverse as they have not made any progress on either front. Their emotional and purely ideological decision to phase out nuclear energy has meant that they have increased both coal and gas usage. Belgium and Spain, two other countries with a large share of nuclear energy capacity, have signalled their intention to go in the same disastrous direction as Germany.  While, on the other hand, France, the UK and Finland acting as the grown-ups in the room have announced an increase in their nuclear energy capacity.

As a result, we have seen Germany as well as Italy using their influence within the EU to call for sanctions to be as soft as possible and, at all costs, trying to make sure that whatever sanctions are agreed upon, the Russian energy sector is excluded. Perhaps turning down Nordstream 2 shows some change in that thinking.

Another key technology that has been forgotten about is energy efficiency. If we had invested in these measures with the same intensity as we have invested in renewables we would have significantly cut our reliance on gas. 

In the UK the David Cameron government (2010 – 2016) got rid of their energy efficiency programmes – labelling it as green crap. If the UK and other countries had invested significantly in energy efficiency measures they would have cut their reliance on gas. 

Target sanctions on Russian oil and gas

But we are where we are. If the EU and other European countries outside the block are as serious about tackling the climate crisis as they claim to be they should start easing their reliance on gas. They should, for example, be investing in heat pumps, making sure all buildings are built as zero-carbon as possible and, whenever possible, we do not use gas for electricity generation. We can’t afford to build new gas infrastructure which locks us into decades of gas usage. And on the Russian question, it is crucial that the sanctions being prepared against Russia must target the oil and gas sector. Sanctions should be used to make Russian gas so expensive that when energy companies purchase gas it would not be economically viable to purchase Russian gas. This should also mean that the gas we do need to use is a secure and stable supply, and Russia is not able to suddenly turn off the tap.

The latest intelligence shared by the US indicates that Russia is preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. As Russia uses gas to bully both Ukraine and Europe our response must be swift and targeted ensuring that Russian gas becomes a no-go commodity.  

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