West to accelerate clean energy transition..
Did they need Russia to invade Ukraine to reevaluate their energy concerns?
American geochemist Wallace Broecker is credited with coining the term “global warming” in his landmark scientific paper, “Climate Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming,” published in 1975.
Four decades later.. the United States joined the Paris Agreement, the successor and improvement upon the Kyoto Protocol, to participate in a global effort to address climate change by reducing humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels and deliberately increasing our collective use of clean energy through governmental legislation and investments. All signatories agreed to submit carbon reduction targets, to commit to reporting transparency and to increase support for developing nations suffering the most from ongoing climate change.
And while nations work diligently to transition their energy mix to have a higher percentage of renewables, Iceland remains the outlier nation with a majority of its energy consumption derived from renewable sources.
As the West enacted economic sanctions, the UN voted to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an ever-growing list of corporations started to suspend business operations with Russia, there are an increasing number of articles recently suggesting the West can continue its ‘assault' on the Russian war effort by hastening its transition to non-Russian energy sources.
From a practical standpoint, the West is experiencing higher gas prices (e.g. >$5/gallon in CA) and likely could experience even higher food prices, both of which are top of mind when considering immediate energy concerns.
To address these issues, conservatives in America and the UK are pushing for increased fossil fuel consumption via non-Russian sources. Just prior to Russia invading Ukraine, twenty-seven U.S. Senators signed a letter sent to the Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, petitioning the energy department “to issue non-free trade agreement export licenses in a timely manner to ensure the global market continues to view U.S. [Liquified Natural Gas] as a dependable source of energy and a reliable alternative to strategic competitors like Russia.” In the UK, the Energy Monitor reports “there has been growing pressure over the past week from conservative politicians to ditch the country’s 2050 net-zero target in light of the war. Lead Brexiteer Nigel Farage is now demanding net zero be put to the public in a referendum.” If net-zero is ditched, then these politicians have erroneously made the claim the UK can increase its investment in oil and gas, which would reduce fuel prices.
Despite these political actions, many news reports are popping up reflecting how Erin Sikorsky, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security, encapsulates the West’s position as it relates to Russia - “The more that countries can wean themselves off oil and gas and move toward renewables, the more independence they have in terms of action.”
Currently Europe faces the tightest pinch because more than 90% of its natural gas is imported and 40% comes from Russia. Moreover, almost 50% of its coal and more than a quarter of its oil comes from Russia as well. (Side note - this must have made punitive Western sanctions against Russia that much more surprising to Putin beyond Europe starting to reverse its decades-long stance of focusing more on social welfare and less so on defense). To combat an overreliance on Russia, the EU is looking to pivot even more to clean energy.
European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen announced Europe will transition off of Russian oil, coal and gas to liquified natural gas from non-Russian sources in the short-term and to develop a strategy for complete divestment from Russian energy sources in the medium- to long-term by significantly increasing energy consumption from renewable sources. Decreasing fossil fuel usage was not originally a key part of the plan but will be going forward, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine less than 2 weeks ago.
The pivot was described by Raphaël Hanoteaux, senior policy advisor on gas politics at think tank E3G, as a “direct link between the Green Deal and energy security.. this would not have been thinkable five years ago. It is also due to changing economics on the ground that make investment in renewables profitable.” Because gas prices have and will continue to increase (as least in the short-term), the push for reducing bureaucratic resistance to augment renewables now has become paramount.
The push for cheaper energy will continue to come up in the U.S. as well, despite Biden announcing in the State of the Union that America will release 30 million barrels of oil from its own Strategic Petroleum Reserve and has coordinated with 30 other countries to release another 30 million barrels. One initiative that keeps popping its head up as nations turn more to clean energy is nuclear power.
As Putin brandishes nuclear weapons to threaten the world, Biden and other world leaders will and should once again revisit increasing nuclear power production. Though the U.S. currently leads the world in nuclear power production, John Kotek of the Nuclear Energy Institute states, “China has the most active program of new nuclear construction. [China] has the fastest-growing commercial nuclear energy or civil nuclear energy sector in the world. They are building at a pace that is roughly equivalent to what you signed in the U.S. in the 70s, or France in the 70s and 80s.” And currently Russia is the top nuclear technology exporter in the world with its nuclear designs being used to build reactors in India, Turkey, Iran and elsewhere. Russia and China both have continued to grow their nuclear energy production; of the 55 new reactors being built in the world, only 2 are in the U.S.A. and 19 are in China.
To be sure, there is no battle to ‘win clean energy’ - it remains a global effort regardless of ongoing conflicts. However, as recent events have proven, as new conflicts arise, energy prices at home could destabilize economies and lives, potentially long-term. The need for sustainable energy independence has been dragged once again into the spotlight because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has spiked gas prices and threatened Europe’s economic security. And, it must be said, economically it is more palatable in this moment to transition to cleaner energy sources due directly to high fossil fuel prices.. despite the fact that climate change remains the proverbial meteor hurtling towards Earth that will not change course if we don’t do everything in our power to alter its path..
..if you want to learn more about Climate Change: