In a bid to end Russian fossil fuel imports by 2027, the European Commission will increase renewable energy production and efficiency, a move experts say could benefit the fight against climate change, according to a report by Bloomberg News .
On May 18, the European Union executive will propose raising its 2030 clean energy target from 40% of its total energy production to 45%, and will also require member states to reduce energy consumption by 13% over the course of the year of the decade, versus the 9% drop currently required.
European energy and international climate policy experts say that while these steps result in small reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, they are part of a positive shift away from fossil fuel dependency.
“In the long run, it will be beneficial for emissions and costs,” Ana Maria Jaller-Makarewicz, energy analyst for Europe at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told Yahoo News. “We cannot continue with this volatile market.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting price spike, Jaller-Makarewicz said, “has shown Europe how volatile the price and supply of gas is.”
Jaller-Makarewicz and others warned that while Europe hopes to increase its clean energy targets, it also plans to replace Russian natural gas with liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from the United States and the Middle East. Given that LNG has a higher carbon footprint than traditional gas due to the energy requirements for liquefaction and transport, this will offset some of the climate benefits of clean energy and efficiency improvements.
But experts also point out that the EU is trying not to commit to long-term fossil fuel infrastructure and supplies that would prevent it from meeting its goal of reducing carbon emissions enough to avert catastrophic climate change. For example, Reuters reported earlier this week that Germany is struggling to negotiate an agreement to buy LNG from Qatar because Qatar wants a commitment of at least 20 years. Germany aims to reduce its emissions by 88% by 2040, meaning it no longer needs imported natural gas for energy and heating in the next two decades.
“The reality is more positive, but somewhat mixed,” Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director for international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Yahoo News. “The EU is trying to wean itself off Russian gas fairly quickly, but it’s not throwing its climate targets off balance, which is good. So you’re wondering, “How could we build infrastructure in the short term to shift our gas supplies?” They try to do that in a way that doesn’t lock them into climatically worthless infrastructure.”
European nations are doing this in two ways, Schmidt said: they tend to build floating LNG import terminals offshore, which are less permanent than structures on land, and they are trying to engineer them in a way that they can no longer be used LNG to hydrogen in the future.
“They clearly recognize, both in the short and long term, [the need] to redouble its climate strategy,” said Schmidt. The construction of an LNG import terminal takes two to five years, which is longer than the construction of a new wind farm or solar park.
Oil and gas consumers around the world are currently paying record prices. As well as cutting emissions and taking money out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war chest at a time when he has invaded Ukraine and is threatening other countries in Europe, the EU believes its forthcoming energy transition plan will give consumers money for gas will save. Bloomberg reported that its sources estimated total annual savings at €80 billion for gas, €12 billion for oil and €1.7 billion for coal.
However, skeptics may fear that the renewable energy regulations will increase the price of electricity. Wind and solar are increasingly cheaper than gas and cheaper than coal, but some studies have shown that renewable portfolio standards increase energy prices by forcing utilities to invest in new wind and solar before investing in existing coal or invest in gas power plants The plants would otherwise have to be replaced.
But most experts are confident that falling prices and other measures in Europe, such as streamlining renewable energy permitting processes, will actually make the EU’s renewable energy plan cheaper than importing increasingly expensive fossil fuels.
“It’s an important step in completing this transition that they’re striving to complete as quickly as possible, to move completely off fossil fuels and dependence,” said Pete Ogden, vice president for energy, climate and environment at the United Nations Foundation , said Yahoo News. “They will always find the alternatives economically more attractive.”