By Fleur Howe, Environmental/ Deputy Editor
Amidst the current Russian-Ukrainian war emerges an energy crisis which has the potential to shatter the current energy systems – for the better or for the worse we are yet to find out. Russia’s position as the second largest global gas provider behind the US means the EU has long relied on Russia to supply its gas and oil, a reliance which has subsequently contributed two fifths of the governmental income for Russia. With this in mind, countries globally have begin cutting off their reliance to Russian energy in an attempt to stop fuelling Putin’s agenda. Just this week President Joe Biden has announced a ban on Russian oil imports to the US and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK will be phasing out Russian oil whilst only 8% of the UK’s oil is from Russia, it is a significant shift that is expected to be made over the course of the year. This development could provide an opportunity to make permanent changes to renewable energy sources, as clean energy becomes the only feasible option, politically and environmentally.
Over the past weeks various sanctions have been placed on Russia to hinder its economy including removing it from the Swift International Banking System, countries are attempting to boycott Russian energy. Germany announced that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is to be halted, aiding their goal for 100% clean energy by 2035 and supporting the Russian energy boycott. The issue facing the immediate need to break away from fossil fuels falls on the lack of previous action; with clean energy installations falling over the winter period and coal use surging, the EU is in no position to abandon fossil fuels just yet. Whilst they may distance themselves from gas and oil, a resurgence in coal which goes against agreements made at COP26 to phase out coal entirely. But with the spiralling gas prices, Europe may be forced to burn coal whilst it secures clean energy sources.
The political situation has created a crossroads, on one hand, we face the use of fossil fuels aligning the political and environmental agenda but in equal parts we face the potential of the war distracting from the climate goal. Whilst the war undoubtedly holds current priority; just as with the Covid-19 pandemic there exists an opportunity within every crisis to evaluate how the response can be environmentally beneficial and whilst the safety and well-being of the Ukrainian people must come first it would be a failed opportunity if we use the retreat from gas and oil to reintroduce coal as the major energy source – even temporarily. Tim Crossland commented for The Guardian that to ‘separate the two logics [of climate and dealing with the war] and it’s all over.’, whilst it must be done urgently any move against Russian energy fuels must be away from coal.
As of current, Russia has made no threat to withhold energy, but its use of fuel resources as a potential political weapon is certainly a cause for concern. Whilst only 5-6% of the Uk’s gas is imported from Russia the UK operates in international gas markets so will subsequently still face the brutal gas market prices as the global supply drops. With the gas price already reaching record heights the UK needs to gear up for a very cold few months as the general public struggle to heat their houses. If Russia were to use their resources against Europe it would amplify this issue, emphasising the need for rapid change.
It is no secret that renewable energy is not a cheap or quick venture, with 80% of the world’s energy still coming from fossil fuels, it is a staggeringly difficult undertaking. That being said, it highlights how, had governments globally prioritised clean energy previously, we would not be facing the urgency we are now. The finance minister of Germany has called clean energy the ‘energy of freedom’ – a freedom both from Russia and fossil fuel emissions. Whilst the environmental threat and the aggressive gas prices pose risk at our doorstep, it is important to recognise the situation the Ukrainian people are facing and treat their cause with urgency, sensitivity, and empathy. Although it is a uniting opportunity for the environmental welfare, it is still a war.
Prioritising Ukraine does not mean we should ignore the climate crisis, both crises are existing simultaneously and should be tackled as such, it is not a case of one or the other but how one can aid the other.