War shakes Europe path to energy independence, climate goals

Published : 27 Mar 2022 08:43 PM

Before Russia’s war in Ukraine, Europe’s most pressing energy policy goal was reducing carbon emissions that cause climate change.

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

To wean itself from Russian energy supplies as quickly as possible, Europe will need to burn more coal and build more pipelines and terminals to import fossil fuels from elsewhere.

This dramatic shift comes amid soaring fuel costs for motorists, homeowners and businesses, and as political leaders reassess the geopolitical risks from being so energy-dependent on Russia.

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

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

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

In the near-term, ending energy ties with Russia puts the focus on securing alternative sources of fossil fuels. But longer term, the geopolitical and price pressures stoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine may actually accelerate Europe’s transition away from oil, gas and coal. Experts say the war has served as a reminder that renewable energy isn’t just good for the climate, but also for national security. That could help speed up the development of wind and solar power, as well as provide a boost to conservation and energy-efficiency initiatives.

The EU has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 55% compared with 1990 levels by 2030, and to get to net zero emissions 

by 2050. 

Analysts and officials say those goals, enshrined in EU climate legislation, can still be met.