Is it possible for Europe to break dependence on Russian fossil fuels? And what impact could countries looking to be more energy independent have on the environment?
Over 40 percent of natural gas used by the European Union comes from Russia, which means its leaders are faced with a problem. To them, economic sanctions are a valuable tool of war. But completely stopping the flow of Russian gas immediately could be damaging. But the war comes first. Robert Habeck, vice chancellor and minister for economy and energy, said recently, “Energy policy is security policy. Strengthening our energy sovereignty strengthens our security.”
Any such moves will entrench fossil fuel use, not break from it. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock—a former co-leader of the Greens— said an extended use of coal is “the price that we all have to pay for this war.” Before this year polluting projects had been on the decline in the country, owing to increased environmental protections.
But after Russia threatened to cut off oil supplies that flow through the Nord Stream pipeline, Germany lost no time dropping environmental measures. While Britain doesn’t rely on Russian imports in the same way as Germany does, energy self-sufficiency is driving more fossil fuel use. During prime minister’s question time last week, Boris Johnson said, “We need to meet the long term impacts of the spike in energy prices, and that is why I will be setting out an energy independence plan for this country.”
Britain becoming more energy self-sufficient and less reliant on imports will be an appealing idea to some. What Johnson is suggesting sounds like a quick fix that would mean smaller energy bills. And it’s not just the Tories that back self‑sufficiency. Trade unions such as the GMB have backed greater energy independence—allegedly to create more jobs.
But far more jobs will come from abandoning ruinous energy policies and embracing renewables rather than continuing a fossil fuel economy. Others, even on the left, back self-sufficiency as a way to make a switch to a greener form of capitalism. But as Johnson hinted, energy independence would mean more North Sea oil extraction and nuclear energy.
Several Tories, including Johnson, have even recommended that the return of fracking could be beneficial. Energy self-sufficiency based on extending fossil fuel projects would be disastrous, and a complete abandonment of promises made by world leaders to keep emissions down. And calling for energy independence is just empty words designed to convince ordinary people that fossil fuels are still necessary. It would be implausible that Britain could ever be completely energy self-sufficient when privatised companies still control the supply.
Unless power is nationalised under democratic control, there’s no way there will be a rational and sustainable policy. What’s needed isn’t energy independence, but a transformation of energy systems altogether. The fuel crisis is a prime opportunity to make the switch to genuinely renewable energy sources. Almost all renewable infrastructure is quicker to build than any oil rig or mine. Large wind farms can be constructed and be ready to generate electricity in two years. The same goes for solar plants.
But instead of pushing for greener renewable alternatives, which those in power say is impossible, they ramp up fossil fuel extraction and guard their existing supply. This is because those who hold the power to keep the lights on are the oil and gas bosses, and making sure their profits keep flowing is a priority. A planned energy system is desperately needed to solve the fuel crisis whilst not ignoring the climate crisis.
A tried and tested tactic
Joint struggle can create unity