There has been much talk about Russia’s geopolitical goals by encouraging this reliance, including to disintegrate NATO, to split Europe or to alienate the US from its Western allies. But these other concerns are pressing.
Soaring energy prices are pushing millions of Europeans into energy insecurity. The continent’s unfettered consumption of fossil gas is fueling climate crisis. The solution should be obvious: stop relying on dirty, expensive, and overwhelmingly imported natural gas. This will mean standing up to the powerful oil industry. Unfortunately, too few politicians are willing to make this important step.
This is not the first time Europe has had to worry about its heavy dependence on Russian gas. It was the exact same story as in the 2014 Ukraine crisis. Europe’s response, to simply find other gas, didn’t work. It isn’t working now.
Russian imports accounted approximately 27% of the EU’s total gas consumption in 2013. Nine years later, Europe is still more dependent on Russia than ever. 38% of EU’s gas supply comes from Russia.
Kadri SIMSON, EU Energy Commissioner, has been meeting with Azerbaijani and Qatari to increase the bloc’s gas supply. The US President Joe Biden is a self-proclaimed climate champion and has been trying to help Europe. He also pushes his ever-expanding plans to export liquefied natural gases to America.
Practically speaking, it’s unlikely that the US or its friends will be able to quickly and effectively replace Russian gas in Europe. Recent research by the Brussels-based thinktank Bruegel found that in the event of a Russian gas rupture, the EU would run out and have to reduce gas use.
Therefore, if Europe can’t live without Russia for its gas, the question should be asked: Why don’t we have gas?
Even if the US could bring some cavalry to Europe’s shores, more gas is not a long-term solution. It doesn’t matter what flag the ship or pipeline has — Europe’s dependence upon the fuel is what makes it so vulnerable to fluctuations in the global gas market.
The future of the planet will be affected by Europe’s and the world’s addictions to gas. Many in the fossil fuel industry believe that gas can be used to address the climate crisis and replace coal. This is false. The International Energy Agency stated that the world should reduce its gas production if it wishes to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Methane, which can leak at any stage of the gas supply chain has more than 80 times the global warming potential than carbon-dioxide in short term. More than 25% of global warming has been caused by methane to date. There are health risks associated with gas exposure in homes and communities near infrastructure. According to a Stanford University study, stoves that are used for cooking can leak methane even if they are turned off.
This gas addiction is not only for those who are interested in geopolitical tensions, or those who are part of the climate movement. In Europe, households are faced with the difficult choice of heating or eating due to a sharp rise in gas prices. In the UK, 22 million have been told their energy bills will rise by about £700 ($950) a year, which will hit the poorest the hardest. Global Witness’s data team recently discovered that the prices of gas in Estonia and the Netherlands have increased by staggering 62% and 122% over the past year.
It’s a very different picture at major fossil fuel companies, as European households are suffering. Shell recently reported its most profitable fourth quarter for almost a decade. It posted almost $20 billion in profit in 2021. ExxonMobil, Chevron posted a combined $38.6billion in profits last year. It’s clear that other oil and gas companies will be posting similar strong years in the future, including Russia’s Gazprom which saw record-breaking Q3 profits. This is a reminder of why politicians continue to support gas, despite its many woes.
This is an industry that directly benefits from rising gas prices, while ordinary citizens fall deeper into energy poverty, and the climate crises intensify. Gas companies are using two-pronged lobbying and greenwashing to secure gas prices. Bernard Looney, CEO of BP, announced his company’s highest profits for eight years and called for more investment in gas. It is clearly having the desired effect.
The European Commission published in December its proposals to reform Europe’s gas market. This could have been a chance to move towards the elimination of gas. It chose to lock in gas for years, which was in keeping with the calls of the gas industry.
The Commission’s proposals assume that fossil gas infrastructure such as pipelines can be replaced with nascent technologies like hydrogen. This is an absurd assumption. This would be a poor way to reduce gas use in Europe, as most hydrogen is produced from fossil gas. It is not possible to challenge the influence and power of fossil fuel companies in the heart of the gas market.
A second way is possible, but it takes a massive shift. The enormous political and financial support provided to the fossil fuel sector must be redirected to provide genuine solutions.
This includes accelerating renewable energy deployment, such as wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels with green electricity. Schemes to renovate large-scale structures or insulate homes to replace gas boilers would go a long ways.
Surprisingly, however, the majority of EU member states continue to give more subsidies for fossil fuels than renewables.
Europe’s deep-gas dependency is affecting its citizens, the future and its ability to defend itself against geopolitical threats. The status quo is currently only beneficial to the big polluters and rich in the gas industry, whether they are from Russia or elsewhere. European leaders need to be making plans to get Europe off of gas as soon as possible. This should not be a courageous act. It’s common sense.