The war in Ukraine prompts Europe to reassess its energy supplies | Energy

Vladimir Putin is using Russia’s grip on Europe’s fossil fuel supplies as ‘a political and economic weapon’ in the war in Ukraine, the world’s top energy adviser has said, asking governments Westerners with crucial questions about how they deal with the threat to democracy while also sheltering themselves from climate catastrophe.

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, said: “Nobody has any illusions anymore. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon shows that Europe must act quickly to be prepared for considerable uncertainty regarding Russian gas supplies next winter.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted European governments, including the UK, to undertake a frantic reassessment of their energy supplies – a reassessment that arguably should have happened much sooner. The first result was a new resolve in some countries – including UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – to push for more renewable energy generation and energy efficiency to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Kwarteng’s intervention – “The long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewables, so we need to move away from gas”, he tweeted – was unexpectedly strong, encouraging environmental activists who had feared that right-wing voices in the Conservative Party that sought to make scrapping the net zero target a matter of “culture war” were on the rise.

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: ‘Kwasi Kwarteng timed it. Our dependence on gas is a problem, and warmer homes powered by renewable energy are the cheapest and fastest solution. Kwarteng needs to convince Chancellor Rishi Sunak that we need a master plan and the money to shut down gas in the UK. We need to insulate our homes, deploy heat pumps and renewables to quickly deal with Putin’s grip on European gas markets, our sky-high energy bills and the climate crisis unfolding before our eyes.

Germany has announced its intention to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy and plans to delay the closure of its remaining nuclear power plants. Frenchman Emmanuel Macron has called for a “renaissance” of low-carbon nuclear power to secure the national energy supply. In the United States, Joe Biden used his State of the Union address to beat the drum again in favor of his proposed clean energy stimulus program.

Paul Bledsoe, Clinton’s former White House climate adviser, now at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, said: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine dramatically increases the likelihood that the US Congress will pass huge new incentives this year to clean energy due to increased emphasis on energy security. Such a massive expansion of U.S. zero-emissions energy will also free up more U.S. natural gas for delivery to Europe to replace Russian gas, which has much higher fugitive methane emissions. Together, these actions would represent a significant improvement not only in global energy geopolitics, but would also result in major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

But as the war in Ukraine continues to rage, there is also a significant risk that – particularly if Putin goes further and cuts gas supplies – governments could pivot in the opposite direction. As noted by the IEA: “There are other avenues open to the EU if it wishes or needs to reduce its dependence on Russian gas even more rapidly… The main short-term option would be to abandon gas consumption in the electricity sector by using more gas from Europe. coal-fired fleet, or by using alternative fuels such as oil in existing gas-fired power plants.

The decision could be made by private sector companies whose coal-fired plants have recently shut down or are about to shut down and could be brought back online quickly, said Richard Howard, research director at Aurora Energy Research. “The high gas prices seen in the market will in any case create an economic incentive for producers to switch from gas-fired to coal-fired plants,” he said. Another complication is that Europe also depends on Russia for coal.

In the United States, export opportunities for hydraulic fracturing gas and coal for power plants could also expand temptingly as fossil fuel prices rise and to fill gaps that open up as countries are moving away from Russian supplies.

Then there is the question of how much consumers will bear. Gasoline prices in the United States, as in many places around the world, are now at their highest in a decade and continue to rise. Phillip Braun, professor of finance at Northwestern University in the United States, said: “American consumers must accept that rising gas prices are a necessary cost to help the people of Ukraine in the midst of their deep crisis.” Whether consumers will continue to pay this price for democracy has yet to be tested.

After years of extremely slow progress in moving away from coal and oil, if countries were to resume the use of fossil fuels under the impact of the war in Russia, it would be catastrophic for attempts to reduce gas emissions. Greenhouse effect. This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of global devastation already underway and set to intensify if temperatures rise further, in what scientists called a “warning darkest to date.

Tim Crosland, director of Plan B, a climate campaign group, said the IPCC report showed that pursuing more fossil fuels in response to Putin would only put the world in greater peril. “There is no possibility of increasing fossil fuel production to counter Putin,” he said. “A strategy to de-escalate the war in Ukraine can and must be integrated with a strategy to urgently and radically reduce carbon emissions, starting with the halting of new fossil fuel supply projects, necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Separate the two logics [of climate and dealing with the war] and it’s all over.

These issues will be highlighted at the next UN climate meeting, COP27, to be held in Egypt in November. Preparations have so far been unaffected and diplomats privately note that climate negotiations have continued through 30 years of political upheaval, including wars between UN members.

But key questions on energy policy will need to be resolved long before the countries meet again on climate. Given the time it takes to change energy systems, as the IEA has made clear, governments must prepare now for what the coming winter will bring.

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