There’s nothing like the sound of tanks rolling down city streets and bombs dropping from the sky to shake people out of their lethargy. The European Union has been taking baby steps toward a transition away from fossil fuels since the Paris climate accords were agreed to in 2015. But it assumed it would be able to rely on coal, oil, and methane exports from Russia during the transition period.
That pipe dream (pun intended) ended in February when Russia launched its own version of a good old fashioned blitzkrieg on Ukraine in February. Suddenly, Europe awoke from its long winter’s nap to find it had funded Pooty Poot’s war machine with the billions it spends every year to purchase coal, oil, and methane from Russia.
In fact, except for selling its natural resources, Russia has virtually no other way of funding its government. This latest reincarnation of Josef Stalin assumed Europe would blithely continue supporting his war crimes because it had no other choice, but he may have miscalculated (just as he miscalculated Ukraine’s ability to defend itself).
This week, Ursala Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, announced a $315 billion package designed to accelerate the EU’s shift away from fossil fuels in general and those sourced from Russia in particular.
The more interdependent we become in Europe, the more independent we become from Russia.
The ultimate aim is: an interconnected European market for clean energy.
That is the foundation of a true Union of Clean Energy.
And this is how we #REPower the EU. pic.twitter.com/PVzcZQsFzR
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 19, 2022
According to the Associated Press, the European Commission’s investment initiative is meant to help the 27 EU countries start weaning themselves off Russian fossil fuels this year. The goal is to deprive Russia, the EU’s main supplier of oil, natural gas, and coal, of tens of billions in revenue and to strengthen EU climate policies.
“We are taking our ambition to yet another level to make sure that we become independent from Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” Von der Leyen said in Brussels when announcing the REPowerEU package. The urgency of taking action was driven home recently when Russia cut off fuel supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after they refused its demand to pay for methane in rubles.
An EU ban on coal from Russia is due to start in August and the bloc has pledged to reduce demand for Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of this year. A proposed EU embargo of Russian oil has hit a roadblock because Hungary and other landlocked countries worry about the cost of switching to alternative sources. To address those conerns, the REPowerEU package provides oil investment funding of around €2 billion for member nations highly dependent on Russian oil.
The Rise Of Renewables
There is a double whammy going on here. Europe could replace Russian fuels with coal, oil, and gas from other countries, but that does nothing to help it lower its carbon emissions. The fossil fuel vultures are already circling, spouting blandishments about how liquefied natural gas could offset the loss of gas from Russia with out mentioning that LNG emissions and methane emissions are pretty much the same. In fact, when you add in the emissions from compressing natural gas and shipping it across oceans, they may actually be higher.
The EU member states and the European Commission are already doing more to address carbon emissions than other major countries like the US, China, and India. There have been ongoing discussions about targeting a 55% cut in greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to emissions in 1990 and getting to carbon neutrality
Those targets, being negotiated by the European Parliament and national governments, are part of the bloc’s commitments to a 55% cut in greenhouse gases by decade’s end, compared with 1990 emissions, and to climate neutrality by 2050. The present plan to get to those reductions is to improve energy efficiency in Europe’s built environment by 9% and make renewables 40% of its energy mix by 2030. This week, Von der Leyen said those targets should be raised to 13% and 45% respectively.
One proposal is to double solar power production and require new homes and buildings to have rooftop solar systems by 2025. Significant increases in onshore and offshore wind power are also part of the plan.
Renewables & NIMBY
Europe has the same problems with getting renewable energy projects for wind and solar off the drawing boards and making them a reality — permitting. The tension between saving the planet and saving the snail darter is the same everywhere. Unless you live in Brazil, where hacking down the arboreal rain forest is a national mania, environmental protection and good old fashioned “not in my back yard” sentiment can delay projects for a decade or more.
The EU simply doesn’t have time to wait. Winter is coming and people will need to heat their homes — or else. The Commission is proposing ways of streamlining the permit process, which is just another way of saying protections for endangered species and NIMBY concerns will be de-emphasized while the urgency of getting things done is given a higher priority. The EC is also proposing financial incentives for installing heat pumps — which can run on zero emissions electricity — in place of gas- or oil-fired furnaces in homes and business, an idea strongly promoted by Bill McKibben earlier this year.
Reaction to Von der Leyen’s remarks has been swift, but not universally positive. Simone Tagliapietra, an energy expert at Bruegel in Brussels, told the Associated Press REPowerEU is a “jumbo package” whose success will ultimately depend on political will in the bloc’s national capitals. “Most of the actions entailed in the plan require either national implementation or strong coordination among member states. The extent to which countries really engage is going to be defining.”
Germany’s Agora Energiewende said the EU’s plan “gives too little attention to concrete initiatives that reduce fossil fuel demand in the short term and thereby misses the opportunity to simultaneously enhance Europe’s energy security and meet Europe’s climate objectives.” Its research shows rapidly expanding solar power, wind farms, and use of heat pumps in industry and buildings could be done faster than constructing new liquefied natural gas terminals or gas infrastructure.
Who Pays For All This?
Von der Leyen said her proposal would be paid for in part by the economic stimulus program put in place to help member countries overcome the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The European Commission estimates the price tag for abandoning Russian fossil fuels completely by a 2027 target date is €210 billion. The package it is proposing includes €56 billion for energy efficiency and €86 billion euros for construction of more solar and wind assets. She said there is a total pool of funds consisting of €72 billion in grants and €225 billion in loans available to pay for the EC proposals.
The European Union allowed itself to be lulled to sleep by the allure of cheap energy from Russia. Now it has awakened to the bitter reality that it has funded the machinations of a madman. It (and the rest of the world) absolutely must cut the fossil fuel umbilical cord to Mother Russia both in the interests of world peace and the interests of keeping the Earth fit for human habitation.
The transition will be painful but it must be done. And when Europe comes through this nightmare, it will be a shining beacon to the rest of the world for what it takes to quit the addiction to fossil fuels. For every door that closes, a window of opportunity opens. That window is open now for Europe but it won’t be open long.
For a fuller discussion of the REPowerEU plan, take a few minutes to view this video from European news source DW.
A CleanTechnica hat tip to Dan Allard for sharing the video with us.
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