Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced the EU to accelerate the pace of its energy and climate policy. Since the Kremlin has increasingly used energy as a tool for political influence, the world must deprive it of its leverage by radically reducing the EU’s dependence on fossil-fuel imports from Russia.
The geopolitical rationale for doing so overlaps with the imperative to tackle climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report on mitigation underscores the urgency of that task. Total greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 if the planet is to avoid a catastrophic increase in global temperatures. Moreover, the economy-wide shift to clean energy must be managed carefully to account for the inevitable social and economic consequences; it must be a “just transition.”
The EU and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have a vital role to play in this transition. Investments in renewables, energy efficiency, and innovative technologies such as green hydrogen are important tools for dealing with Russia’s aggression, and for helping to save the planet from dependence on fossil fuels. Every euro spent on the energy transition at home is a euro kept out of the hands of an authoritarian power that wages aggressive war. Every euro spent on clean energy enhances the freedom to make independent decisions. Every euro spent helping international partners accelerate their decarbonization strategies is an investment in resilience, and in the fight against climate change.
Since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, the EU has been accelerating its energy transition plans to help end Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil-fuel imports as soon as possible. Although this would not happen overnight, the incentives to do so are now greater than ever. The EU can achieve energy independence by improving efficiency, diversifying supplies, and ramping up renewables. This process requires mobilization at all levels — from supranational bodies down to households and individuals.
There are two important caveats to consider. First, the search for alternative suppliers of natural gas — critical as it is in the short term — must not lock countries into a new long-term dependence that requires heavy investments in fossil-fuel infrastructure. That would be costly, catastrophic for the planet and ultimately unnecessary, given the more climate-conscious options that are available.
Second, governments must not trade one bottleneck for another by swapping an over-dependence on fossil fuels for over-dependency on raw materials needed for the green transition. These resources are heavily concentrated in just a handful of countries, not all of which hold the same values and interests as the EU. Strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy and resilience must remain a key objective of the transition.
Europe cannot do this alone. Winning the battle against climate change and standing up to Russian aggression are global challenges that demand a global response. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has strengthened the strategic rationale for all countries to reduce their fossil-fuel imports and invest more in climate-friendly energy solutions.
That is why the EU is actively engaged in climate diplomacy. It wants to encourage others to raise their climate ambitions, and it has committed considerable resources to working with partner countries so that they, too, can move toward a resilient net-zero-emissions economy.
Through the European Green Deal and the EU’s new Global Gateway initiative, EU institutions and member states are mobilizing up to 300 billion euros (US$316.2 billion) of investment in green and digital infrastructure to address the climate, biodiversity, and energy crises.
Moreover, the EIB has pledged to support 1 trillion euros of investment in climate action and environmental sustainability by 2030. Through its new development arm, EIB Global, the bank is working with partners around the world to mobilize finance for energy efficiency, renewables and electricity grid projects.
Working as part of the EU’s joint effort under Team Europe, the EIB’s support for a clean-energy future ranges from investing in solar power in Senegal to financing more energy-efficient kindergartens in Armenia.
The bank has also helped forge the Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa; provided backing for the India-based International Solar Alliance, which supports solar power development across 105 tropical countries; and signed on to an integrated water management and flood prevention scheme in Argentina.
The EU stands ready to support the global community in ending its dependency on fossil fuels. Russia’s war on Ukraine is not a reason to delay investments in climate action. On the contrary, more green investment should give the EU more strategic autonomy.
Decarbonization has become a geopolitical imperative. Governments should call on their national partners and across international financial institutions to accelerate finance for clean energy. By pursuing climate neutrality, energy security can also be achieved.
Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is vice president of the European Commission for a Stronger Europe in the World. Werner Hoyer is president of the European Investment Bank.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
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