By Anders Lorenzen
A recent report has shed light on how we can wean ourselves off Russian fossil fuels faster than the EU and other countries are aiming for in ways that would also accelerate climate action.
The report titled “Switch off Putin: A Ukrainian Energy Solidarity Plan” was released by the European environmental NGO RePlanet, which argued that the EU can immediately stop buying fossil fuels from Russia if they would be prepared to implement a radical plan for both fuel switching and continent-wide energy rationing.
An immediate embargo on Russian fossil fuels
The authors argue that they have demonstrated the feasibility of an immediate embargo on Russian oil, gas and coal. The EU currently buys over half a billion euros worth of Russian fossil fuels per day, with over 20 billion euros paid out to the Kremlin since the invasion began on 24 February. Many have argued that it is precisely the EU’s purchase of Russian fossil fuels which enables Russia to fund the war in Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, Volodimir Zelensky, has repeatedly urged European leaders to end this sanctions-busting subsidy to the Russian President, who the authors do not hesitate to call a dictator. But despite this, the EU plans have lacked serious urgency and they have only pledged to end the import of Russian oil, gas and coal “well before 2030”.
Implementing a war economy
The report suggests that by shifting to a ‘war economy’ and implementing a series of ambitious temporary measures, President Zelensky’s request can be met immediately. These measures include suspending business flights, lowering speed limits on motorways, restarting shuttered nuclear plants, a fast-tracked deployment of solar and wind power and turning down domestic and business thermostats from the current 22C to 18C next winter.
If all these actions were to be implemented, 155 billion cubic metres of gas could be saved over the year if Russian imports are to end entirely. The report quantifies how each of the energy-saving and fuel switching measures can substitute for Russian gas and finds that Europe can “Switch off Putin” immediately if it can summon the political will and implement rationing and solidarity measures appropriate to a de facto war economy across the continent.
Co-author of the report Mark Lynas says: “As President Zelensky has repeatedly pointed out, it is unthinkable that Europe should be pouring billions into Putin’s war machine while Ukrainians are dying under a rain of missiles and bombs. This report demonstrates that ending European imports of Russian fossil fuels is possible right now. Obfuscation and delays from European leaders – particularly in Germany – must stop.”
However, the authors caution that war economy style measures such as energy rationing must be shared fairly across societies, for instance through “energy basic income” which would insulate low-income households from poverty. Additionally, enforcing a windfall tax on energy companies could raise €200 billion to fund the more costly measures such as providing free public transport.
An unprecedented rollout of low-carbon energy sources
The report emphasises that the emergency measures must also be combined with an unprecedented rollout of low-carbon energy sources, which will make meeting mid-term climate goals more achievable. The suspension of normal planning laws to turbocharge the deployment of wind and solar power and changes in legislation to ramp up the building of new nuclear power will be needed to make sure that energy rationing is only a short-term measure.
RePlanet Executive Director, Tea Törmänen added: “If Europe acts in solidarity and shares energy resources across borders, we can effectively bankrupt the Kremlin. It will involve making sacrifices not seen since World War II, but I’m confident most of us are prepared to do so in order to force Putin to end the war and save European democracy.”
While the report only called the theoretical war-time measures temporary, seen in the light of the recent warning from the UN that the world’s climate pledges are well below par with what climate science demands, many climate advocates would want them to be more permanent.