Home Global warming Russian conflict in Ukraine reshapes climate debate

Russian conflict in Ukraine reshapes climate debate

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Just three months ago, world leaders gathered at the Glasgow Climate Summit and made ambitious pledges to reduce the use of fossil fuels. The perils of a warming planet are no less calamitous now, but the debate over the crucial transition to renewable energy has taken precedence over energy security as Russia – Europe’s largest energy supplier – threatens to trigger a major confrontation with the West over Ukraine. while oil prices climb towards $100 a barrel.

For more than a decade, political discussions in Europe and beyond on reducing the consumption of gas, oil and coal have focused on safety and the environment, to the detriment of financial and economic considerations. , said Lucia van Geuns, strategic energy adviser at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies. Now it’s the other way around.

Gas prices have become very high and all of a sudden security of supply and price have become the main topic of public debate,” she said.

The renewed focus on energy independence and national security may encourage policymakers to backtrack on efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels that pump deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Already, soaring prices have spurred additional production and consumption of fuels that contribute to global warming. Coal imports to the European Union in January increased by more than 56% compared to the previous year.

In Britain, the Coal Authority last month allowed a mine in Wales to increase production by 40 million tonnes over the next two decades. In Australia, there are plans to open or expand more coking coal mines. And China, which has traditionally made energy security a priority, further ramped up coal production and approved three new billion-dollar coal mines this week.

“Make your rig count,” Jennifer Granholm, the US energy secretary, said in December, urging US oil producers to increase production. Shale companies in Oklahoma, Colorado and other states are looking to resuscitate drilling that had stopped because there was suddenly money to be made. And this month, Exxon Mobil announced plans to increase spending on new oil wells and other projects.

Ian Goldin, professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, warned that high energy prices could lead to greater exploration of traditional fossil fuels. “Governments will want to deprioritize renewable and sustainable energy, which would be exactly the wrong answer,” he said.

Europe’s transition to sustainable energy has always been a complex calculation, requiring it to move away from dirtier fossil fuels like coal, while working with gas and oil producers to power homes , cars, and factories until better alternatives become available.

For Germany, dependence on Russian gas has been an integral part of its environmental project for many years. Plans for the first direct pipeline between the two countries, Nord Stream 1, began in 1997. A leader in reducing carbon emissions, Berlin decided to shut down coal mines and nuclear power plants after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. in Japan. The idea was that Russian gas would provide the fuel needed during the years of transition to cleaner energy sources. Two-thirds of the gas Germany flared last year came from Russia.

Future plans included delivering even more gas via Nord Stream 2, a new 746-mile pipeline under the Baltic Sea that directly connects Russia to northeastern Germany.

On Tuesday, after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin recognized two breakaway republics in Ukraine and mobilized forces, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted final regulatory review of the $11 billion pipeline, which ended on Tuesday. last year.

“I don’t think the threat from Russia outweighs the threat from climate change, and I don’t see the opening of coal mines across Europe,” said James Nixey, Russia- Eurasia at Chatham House, a research organization. in London.

Admittedly, the path to energy transition has never been clear. Five climate summits have taken place in the past 30 years and progress has always been insufficient. This latest setback may just be the latest in a long line of interim measures and setbacks.

Yet without a more comprehensive strategy to wean itself off gas, Europe will not be able to meet its target of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, or to reach the Glasgow Summit target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

As Mr. Nixey acknowledged, “this debate is changing” as leaders are forced to recognize the downsides of reliance on Russian energy.

Even in Germany, where the progressive Greens have gained a more influential voice in government, there has been a change in tone.

This month, Robert Habeck, Germany’s new economics and climate change minister and a member of the Greens, said events had underlined the need to diversify supplies. “We have to act here and secure ourselves better,” he said. “If we don’t, we will become a pawn in the game.”

Energy prices began to climb before Mr Putin began massing troops on Ukraine’s eastern border as countries emerged from pandemic lockdowns and demand increased.

But as Mr. Putin moved aggressively against Ukraine and energy prices rose further, the political and strategic vulnerabilities presented by Russia’s control of so much of Ukraine’s supply Europe took center stage.

“Europe is quite dependent on Russian gas and oil, and it’s unsustainable,” said Sarah E. Mendelson, director of Heinz College in Washington. She added that the United States and its European allies had not focused enough on energy independence in recent years.

Overall, Europe gets more than a third of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia. Deliveries have slowed considerably in recent months, while reserves in Europe have fallen to just 31% of capacity.

For critics of EU climate policies, the sudden focus on greenhouse gas emissions and existing fuel reserves is a validation.

Arkadiusz Siekaniec, vice-president of Poland’s Miners’ Union, has long argued that European Union efforts to end coal production on the continent are folly. But now he hopes others can come around to his point of view.

Climate policy “is a suicide mission” that could make the whole region too dependent on Russian fuel, Mr Siekaniec said last week as US troops landed in his country. “It threatens the economy as well as the citizens of Europe and Poland.”

For Mateusz Garus, a blacksmith in Jankowice, a coal mine in Upper Silesia, the heartland of coal country, politics and not climate change are the drivers of politics. “We will destroy the electricity sector,” he said, “and we will depend on others like Russia.”