The Energy Crisis and the Invasion of Ukraine

In the midst of what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called ‘among the darkest hours for Europe since WWII’ we are facing not only a devastating humanitarian crisis, but also a heightened sense of energy vulnerability is being felt across the whole of Europe. Our heavy reliance on fossil fuels has been exposed not only a climate-related issue, but also as an imminent security and safety concern. 

With gas prices already soaring by 62% on Thursday following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the EU’s reliance on Russian gas is being frighteningly laid bare. Producing 10 million barrels of oil a day, and supplying Europe with 40% of its natural gas imports, the EU is hesitant to impose sanctions on Russian energy imports.

Italy and Germany represent those most vulnerable to the situation of a Russian gas freeze or embargo as both rely on Russian gas for almost half of their supply. The closure of Germany’s remaining two nuclear plants has only added to this reliance. Many smaller EU countries such as Italy, Moldova, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Herzegovina rely almost exclusively on Russian gas. Finland and Latvia are also particularly vulnerable, relying on 90% of their supply from Russia. 

The conflict is expected to spur greater urgency to the EU’s transition to cleaner energy. The European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson earlier this month promoted a radical boost for offshore wind and for investment of hydrogen sources. Tweeting on Tuesday that the EU must diversify our suppliers and invest in renewables. A new strategy containing a target of a 40% reduction of fossil fuel use by 2030 will be announced by the EU on March 2nd.

Germany’s Vice Chancellor echoed Commissioner Simson’s feelings, stating that Russia’s invasion has strengthened the case for energy independence through the investment of renewables. 

However, given the nature of an energy embargo on Russian exports, the time it would take to feel the effects would not be pressing enough to force Russia to retreat from Ukraine. The energy crisis is now well and truly on dirty display, with Putin benefitting from tight oil, gas and coal markets.

Our short term options are limited, an increase in imported LNG will likely last until next autumn however, the bloc will feel the pinch when demand starts to increase leading up to the cooler months. 

It is clear that the energy transition has not been fast enough, there is now intensified attention on the desperate need to switch, but this will not happen overnight. In the meantime what will Europe’s response be, will higher prices discourage consumption?

A forced reckoning has been placed on Europe’s energy dependence. An increase in investment of renewables is needed by Member States along with focused attention to near and middle term energy security issues by policy makers and industry in order to avoid further disruptions and insecurities 

A large coalition of climate and Environmental groups last week called upon the EU to provide clean renewable heating for all. Take a look at their civil society manifesto ‘Renewable Heat for All’ here which emphasizes the need for a fast roll out of renewable heating and energy efficiency solutions across Europe.

Guest blog by POW Athlete Training Coordinator Liz McAuley