Sustainability Blog

Invasion of Ukraine Threatens Europe’s Climate Goals

By Gabriela Wheeler - May 26, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, that started on February 24, is not only unleashing devastation and misery on the Ukrainian people, it also threatens the climate goals set by most European nations under the Paris Agreement.

A modern European economy needs lots of electricity. Until recently, one of the main sources of electricity production in Europe was the fossil fuel coal. Climate scientists estimate coal is responsible for over 0.3 degrees Celsius of the 1 C increase in average global temperatures. This makes it the single largest source of global temperature rise, according to data from the environmental charity ClientEarth’s website.

Many European Union nations have switched to natural gas as the preferred source of power generation. While it pollutes less than coal, it’s still not perfect. Most EU countries have been using less gas over the past decade to comply with the Paris Agreement’s emissions goals.

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“Gas produces emissions of planet-warming gases, and Europe is bound by its own law to cut emissions by more than half by the end of the decade,” Somini Sengupta and Matina Stevis-Gridneff explain in an article in The New York Times. 

Urgent Reductiuon

Now the focus has become even more specific and pressing. EU states must cut their reliance on gas quickly if they want to impose a ban on Russian imports. This will slash the country’s main source of income. It funds about 40% of its federal budget from oil and gas sales. It may also deter the expansion of its military force and aggression towards its neighbors.

But cutting the bloc’s reliance on natural gas is easier said than done. It could also mean a threat to its emission goals. In a press conference in early March, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans admitted that some coal plants might need to stay online longer than anticipated to address the region’s energy crunch.

The EU’s largest economy, Germany, relies on affordable supplies of Russian gas as a replacement for coal. The government hopes to meet the bloc’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55% compared with 1990s levels by 2030. Russian gas flows into Germany through the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

“Germany decided under its previous government in 2020 that it would spend $44.5 billion to quit coal by 2038. The new government, which took over in December, has moved the exit date up to 2030 and emphasized the expansion of renewable energy for power generation,” Sengupta and Stevis-Gridneff note.

However, the government will make coal-fired plants slated for decommissioning as a back-up plan if Russian gas supplies stop, the New York Times reported.

If Germany stops receiving gas from Russia, it may have no choice but to go back to burning coal instead. Rolling out renewable energy such as wind and solar power will take too long to replace Russian gas. If ther EU states follow suit, it may lead to a tragic reversal of the advances toward clean energy, sustainability and greener business.

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