If the link between climate change and European security was not obvious before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it certainly is now. The continent – and the rest of the world – have known for decades that reducing the use of oil, natural gas and coal is the surest way to avoid catastrophic climate change. But Europe has in fact increase its reliance on Russian natural gas to heat its homes, power its industries and generate its electricity, a shift that has not only contributed to climate change but has also placed the continent in the position of funding Russian President Vladimir’s brutal war machine Putin. These bombs falling on Ukrainian civilians and these tanks driving through Ukrainian cities have been paid for with European money.
All of this must change quickly, and it is reasonable to expect that Germany – the country most responsible for the continent’s calamitous dependence on Kremlin-controlled energy – will lead this transition. The European Union has set itself the goal of cutting Russian natural gas imports by two-thirds by next winter and completely phasing out Russian fossil fuels by 2027. That would be an extremely ambitious timetable in time. of peace, but if the continent shifts to a war footing… as it should, with savage conflict playing out on its eastern borders – then that should be achievable. The United States can and should play a supporting role by exporting American natural gas to replace Russian supplies in the short term while helping the continent move away from fossil fuels and replace them with wind, nuclear, hydrogen and other clean energy sources.
Europe now gets around 40% of its natural gas and a quarter of its oil from Russia, which would cost more than a billion dollars a day. But these figures hide significant differences from one country to another: Germany and Italy are most dependent on Russia for natural gas, while two-thirds of Polish oil comes from Russia. Even as Putin’s government has become more aggressive, unleashing a war in Georgia in 2008 and illegally annexing the Ukrainian province of Crimea in 2014, Russian companies have been able to expand their business in Europe. (Board positions at Russian energy companies have also offered a lucrative sinecure to retired European politicians, such as former German Chancellor and Putin fanboy Gerhard Schroeder.)
Since Russia unleashed its invasion of Ukraine, Germany has taken some welcome steps, including freezing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would have carried even more Russian natural gas to Germany. Berlin said it would also build two new terminals to import gas from the United States or the Middle East by ship, which would be built in such a way that it could also handle hydrogen in the future. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also been one of the most vocal opponents of including Russian energy deals in Western sanctions. And while Germany’s plan to replace natural gas in power generation could respond to the need to reduce dependence on Russia, it is completely backward from an environmental point of view: Berlin still plans to shutting down its carbon-free nuclear power plants while reactivating coal-fired power plants, which are the most carbon-intensive form of electricity generation.
According to the International Energy Agency, keeping these reactors online would help the continent get rid of Russian fuel. If that’s too much for Germany, Berlin should at least drop its opposition to nuclear power elsewhere on the continent. Before the war in Ukraine, Germany has opposed a European plan to categorize nuclear power investments as green and has tried to prevent coal-dependent Poland from developing nuclear power. But if it wants to have a chance to free itself from Russian energy, Europe can no longer be hostage to Germany’s nuclear taboos. Germany has also come in for well-deserved criticism for the laborious process of permitting a Tesla electric vehicle factory there, which is contrary to the kind of quick steps away from gas-powered vehicles that the climatic and Ukrainian crises.
The United States is much less dependent on Russian fossil fuels, which allowed President Biden to announce this week that he would ban all Russian oil, gas and coal imports. Helping NATO allies follow the American lead should be a national security priority. One way to do this is to export US natural gas to fill the gap left by Russian gas. A more sustainable answer would be to boost American production of the non-renewable minerals and metals needed for renewable energy, such as neodymium for offshore wind and cobalt for batteries, so that the West does not become so dependent on autocracies for energy. clean energy that it is now for fossil fuels. The past two weeks have been a stark reminder that without energy security, we will not only be at the mercy of foreign despots – we may also end up paying for their brutal wars.
Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.