Monday, May 16, 2022

Europe does not need more gas to replace Russia’s. That’s a climate disaster.

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Shreya Christina
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In five years’ time, European countries hope end dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and by the end of the year they want to cut dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds. If Europe delivers on these promises, the Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger one of the fastest energy transitions in history.

The biggest question now is whether it’s a transition from oil and gas – or just from Russian oil and gas.

At the moment it seems that fossil fuels are winning. Oil companies in the United States are eager to see Europe swap one fossil fuel for another and build more infrastructure on both sides of the Atlantic to transport oil and gas to Europe. And despite their climate pledges, world leaders have shown early support for stepping up fossil fuel infrastructure

On Friday, during President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe for G7 and NATO meetings, the US announced a new joint agreement with Europe that includes 15 billion cubic meters in new shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) this year. This is in addition to the shipments already going to Europe and replaces approximately one quarter of gas imported from Russia.

But the United States is not in the driver’s seat. The European countries face the real choice between building new fossil fuel infrastructure or accelerating their timeline for clean energy investments. And they could accelerate their transition from fossil fuels by prioritizing climate-friendly solutions, such as boosting energy efficiency, installing heat pumps and accelerating renewable permits. Two new reports from independent think tanks this week outline a viable path that does not replace Russian oil and gas with other fossil fuels

A month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, European Union coverage was a mixed bag. Earlier this month, the European Union executive, the European Commission, included new LNG terminals and pipelines for importing fossil fuels from other countries among its options to meet energy demand. Still, it reaffirmed its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 55 percent from 1990 levels in just eight years.

It would definitely be short-term thinking to accelerate LNG terminals in Europe. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called it “madness” to ignore the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels when it has become abundantly clear that the world must stop building new infrastructure. †Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction,” he said on March 21. “Countries could be so consumed by the immediate supply of fossil fuels that they neglect or kneel on policies to reduce fossil fuel use.”

After the United States, the European Union has the biggest impact on climate change since the industrial revolution, and the coming weeks could see permanent reforms in global energy policy. It is far from a given, Although. EU members now have a choice: they can boost oil and gas from elsewhere, or they can undertake the most ambitious transition to renewables and energy efficiency in history.

There is a real chance that Europe will opt for fossil fuels

Energy prices have risen steadily over the past year, but for the time being there are no direct gas shortages in Europe. Next winter will be the real test whether Europe can survive without Russian gas, because then heating for buildings will increase the demand for gas. No country is more likely to experience a roller coaster than Germany, which depends on Russia for more than half of its gas imports, followed by Italy.

The European Commission has released a first plan, called RePowerEU, to weather the immediate crisis. One of the first steps recommended by the European Commission was to expand gas storage to: 80 percent of capacity† The EU is looking for other countries to stock up on that gas.

But the EU needs infrastructure to process and transport all this gas, and the existing infrastructure will not survive. According to the German newspaper Deutsche Welle, there are 37 LNG terminals in the EU Member States, and none in Germany. Countries like Germany are planning new terminals, but those that are already being worked on will only be completed in a number of years. A proposed LNG terminal in northwestern German cities would not be built until 2026 and would meet 10 percent of the country’s gas demand. Now talks about two new terminals are planned in Germany in response to Russia’s war with Ukraine, a sign that countries are increasing their investment in fossil fuels in response to this crisis.

This is hardly an energy revolution. Europe’s energy supply would remain largely the same in response to the crisis; it would simply come from other parts of the world, at a higher cost.

Defenders of the plan to boost LNG imports to Europe say this is the only way to close the gap left by Russian gas. As a senior White House government official said in a press release Friday, the LNG deal is needed “in the very short term to prevent people from getting cold this winter and next winter before clean energy is deployed on a large scale.”

That approach has its critics. “The necessary measures to permanently reduce fossil gas consumption go hand in hand with what is needed to achieve the EU’s climate targets,” said Matthias Buck, director of the German think tank Agora Energiewende. “The EU must now ensure that RePowerEU accelerates energy efficiency and the expansion of renewables to achieve energy sovereignty by 2027.”

Jake Schmidt, international program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, argues it would be foolish to build new fossil fuel infrastructure. “There is a lot of skepticism about whether or not Germany can build the import facilities as quickly as they claim,” Schmidt said. “The gas installations come online at a time when they don’t need that gas. And so you’re looking at a 30-year investment facility with a lifespan of up to five to ten years. That’s not a great economy.”

Europe can get through this crisis without holding on to more fossil fuels. Seriously.

Two reports released this week from European think tanks argue that nearly all European gas needs can be met with energy efficiency and exploring underutilized clean energy options. The EU should make a concerted effort to reduce energy consumption. A report from Agora Energiewendeadvocating the clean energy transition in Germany suggests it is possible to reduce the EU’s overall gas consumption by 32% by 2027.

One second report from environmental NGOs Bellona, ​​Ember, E3G and Regulatory Assistance Project concludes that combining a clean energy expansion with accelerated energy efficiency efforts would replace about two-thirds of Russian gas demand by 2025.

Importantly, the report states that “security of supply and reduction of Russian gas dependence do not require the construction of new EU gas import infrastructure such as LNG terminals.” The NGOs argue that this can be done even without extending the life of nuclear power or increasing coal consumption in the coming years.

Some of the reforms proposed in the report require more responsibility and oversight from the oil and gas industry, namely by doing more to prevent methane leaks during their operations, as that wasted fuel can be conserved and used. Other solutions are quite simple, but require collective action. These are relatively minor behavioral changes, such as consumers cutting their heating by a degree or two, installing smart thermostats, sealing drafty windows and installing LED lights.

These measures sound small, but add up to a lot, according to Agora Energiewende For example, the report says energy efficiency and replacing gas boilers in fossil fuel buildings could reduce gas dependence by more than a third by 2027, at 480 terawatt hours. Heat pumps — a technology that can be used to heat or cool buildings — are one of the modern alternatives to the inefficient gas boiler. Industrial operations could also become more efficient, so some similar energy-saving measures could yield even greater profits.

Added up, the report claims that of the 3,800 terawatt hours of gas the EU consumed in 2020, about a third could be displaced within five years.

Then there are the policy levers. Governments can accelerate licensing for proposed clean energy projects, both offshore and on land. Meanwhile, the European Commission has already announced a plan to double the number of heat pump installations this winter. Other policies are in the works that could help reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels. For example, France has announced that it will stop subsidies for new gas stoves, and increase subsidies for heat pumps instead.

In addition to energy efficiency, there are other policies that accelerate the transition to clean energy. The European Union is considering a proposal for a regulation that would impose a fee on imports from countries with lagging climate policies, forming the world’s first carbon border tax. The idea behind the tax is to discourage companies from moving to countries with more lax climate policies.

The common thread running through many of these solutions is that more emphasis should be placed on energy efficiency. Leadership in many of these measures will not come from the United States. The US has not yet passed a comprehensive law to tackle climate change, and Biden’s hopes for clean energy investment have stalled in Congress. The US won’t lead, but Europe still can.

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