Can Europe quit Russian oil — and go green in the process?

Yahoo News 360

Can Europe quit Russian oil — and go green in the process?

Mike Bebernes, Senior Editor – March 2, 2022

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates. 0:19 0:59   State of the Union: Biden announced U.S. and allies will release 60 million barrels from strategic oil reserves 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. 

What’s happening

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted the United States and its allies to impose tough sanctions designed to isolate Russia from the world economy. While those sanctions have dealt a major blow to Russia’s financial system, they mostly have not included direct restrictions on the country’s most important industries: oil and gas.

Those exemptions show how deeply reliant the West has become on Russian energy exports, which supply about 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas and a quarter of its crude oil. Governments have warned that shutting off the flow of Russian fossil fuels could cause global energy prices to skyrocket — a shock that would be especially harmful to European countries, which were already dealing with cripplingly high energy costs before the war started.

“We’re not going to do anything which causes an unintended disruption to the flow of energy,” U.S. deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh told reporters last week.

Even without formal sanctions in place, Russia’s oil industry is reportedly scrambling to stay afloat amid the upheaval, which has made buyers and banks wary of the risks of doing business in the country. Global oil prices have shot up significantly in response.

The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted for many world leaders the importance of breaking their energy relationship with Russia. Germany, for example, suspended certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the lead-up to the invasion. Kadri Simson, the European Union’s energy commissioner, said Monday that the assault “made our vulnerability painfully clear,” adding that it was unwise to “let any third country destabilize our energy markets or influence our energy choices.”

Why there’s debate

Europe ending or significantly reducing its reliance on Russian oil and gas would represent a major shift in the global energy market, but experts are divided over whether that disruption would be a move forward or a setback for the green energy transition that’s necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.

Optimists are hopeful that European countries, which have already made aggressive pledges to decarbonize, will double down on their investment in renewables in order to fill the energy gap created by a drawdown in Russian imports. Others say the invasion creates potent new political ground for the green energy push, since advocates can now argue that it’s needed to bolster national security and global stability — on top of the well-documented environmental benefits.

But skeptics fear that pressure to keep energy prices from spiking will push countries to seek out whatever fossil fuels are available to meet their energy needs — including coal, which releases about twice as much carbon as natural gas. It’s also possible that other oil-exporting nations, including the U.S., might ramp up their production to meet surging European demand, they say. And there are concerns that isolating Russia’s economy will make materials needed to produce green energy sources harder to acquire and make it more difficult to pressure Russia — the fourth most prolific carbon emitter in the world — to decarbonize its own economy.

What’s next

It’s possible that the continued assault on Ukraine could inspire western nations to impose direct sanctions on Russia’s fossil fuel industry in the near future. “Nothing is off the table,” President Biden told reporters Wednesday when asked about a potential U.S. ban on Russian oil.



Russia’s invasion creates an entirely new rationale for the green energy revolution

“For all we talk about how inexpensive renewables are, and how quickly energy storage is coming down in price, that hasn’t been enough when it appears that ‘just’ the climate is at stake. Now European sovereignty is at stake.” — Daniel Kammen, energy researcher, to Los Angeles Times

Nations and individuals will be more willing to make the sacrifices needed to switch to renewables

“Much of the gas-price premium right now is driven by uncertainty — not knowing what Russian President Vladimir Putin might do next. … Ripping off the Band-Aid now would take uncertainty off the table. It would mean front-loading many of the investments that would need to happen regardless. All that does come with large upfront costs borne by ratepayers, shareholders, and taxpayers alike.” — Gernot Wagner, Bloomberg

Fossil fuel burning may increase in the short term, but over time green energy will thrive

“We may need, for the remaining weeks of this winter, to insure gas supplies for Europe, but by next winter we need to remove that lever. That means an all-out effort to decarbonize that continent, and then our own. It’s not impossible.” — Bill McKibben, Guardian

High fossil fuel prices make renewable alternatives more attractive

“Steep gas prices are, of course, a great selling point for electric cars, not that they need it at this point.” — Froma Harrop, RealClearPolitics

Without Russian gas, countries will be forced to speed up their transition to renewables

“Gas was already, at best, a short-term ‘bridge technology’ that was meant to hold Europe over between phasing out coal and oil (the dirtiest fossil fuels) and the full adoption of renewables. We can now ditch gas sooner than we had planned.” — Paul Hockenos, CNN


Spiking energy prices will create pressure for countries to ramp up fossil fuel burning

“High energy prices also provide grist for those who argue that the costs of the net-zero transition represent an additional and unnecessary burden at a time when many households and businesses are struggling to pay their energy bills. … In a time of inflation and cost-of-living pressures around the world, their arguments will find a ready audience.” — Mark Nicholls, Energy Monitor

Nations may prioritize fossil fuels to reach energy independence as quickly as possible

“The renewed emphasis on energy independence and national security may encourage policymakers to backslide on efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels that pump deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” — Patricia Cohen, New York Times

Europe has few viable alternatives to Russian fossil fuels

“The flexibility is there, but each of the options is worse than just burning Russian gas; otherwise, we wouldn’t have burned Russian gas in the first place.” — Georg Zachmann, energy industry analyst, to Scientific American

Building the green energy future will be more difficult without Russia

“Existing plans to transition away from fossil fuels largely rely on siting new energy generation sources and producing consumer electric vehicles — activities that will require lots of metal that Russia produces.” — Jael Holzman, Politico

Hopes of convincing Russia to lower its emissions have become even dimmer

“Any potential for greater climate engagement with Russia before the next major climate meeting in Egypt later this year is off the table for the time being. This is a setback for international climate efforts, given Russia’s role as one of the world’s top five greenhouse gas emitters.” — Ellie Martus and Susan Harris Rimmer, Conversation

Green alternatives will take too long to meet Europe’s immediate energy needs

“Western countries, including the U.S., should follow France’s lead and either expand or relaunch their nuclear-power programs. But there should be no illusions about how long such an effort will take (or how much it will cost) to make a difference. This is not a quick solution, and nor, incidentally, is doubling down on renewables. … The best solution for now is to encourage increased oil and gas production from existing and new fields on both sides of the Atlantic.” — Andrew Stuttaford, National Review.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.