Written by 3:07 pm EU Investment

Time has come for real European climate and energy sovereignty – EURACTIV.com

The EU has now reached its ‘whatever it takes’ moment on Putin’s manipulated energy crisis, Susi Dennison writes.

Susi Dennison leads the European Power programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

As we head towards the colder months, European leaders’ fear is growing with regard to our ability to sustain a robust stance on Russia through a long war in Ukraine.

Understanding is growing at the government level that the chaos that Putin is waging on European energy supplies – under the excuses of disagreement on contracts, or pipeline maintenance – is not going to subside until EU states begin to react and resist collectively.

Europe’s leaders are also becoming increasingly aware that, likely as Moscow intends, steeply rising energy prices and costs of living more broadly will render them unable to pursue tighter sanctions on Russia as it continues its cruel war on Ukraine through the autumn.

But this realisation in the corridors of power will not be sufficient. There is now a need for political honesty about the depth of the crisis that Europe is facing, and the necessity of Europe planning together for the coming winter and beyond in order to withstand the multifaceted security threat that we are faced with.

Rather than seeing their nationally rising energy costs in isolation, European citizens need clear-eyed honesty from their leaders about the bigger picture. Europe is not currently a player in the geopolitical game around Putin’s war in Ukraine: we are a plaything, and our choices are being taken away from us.

When Germany pushes its ally Canada to circumvent its own sanctions in order to repair the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to keep the supply of Russian gas going, as we saw in July, Europe is not sovereign.

When European governments are placing all their emergency funds in shoring up fossil fuel-based supplies for the winter, replacing like with like in terms of what they used to import from Russia, and are afraid to instead make more strategic long-term choices to invest in building up sustainable energy security, rapidly scaling up the renewable sector as foreseen in the RePowerEU strategy published in May, we are not sovereign.

And this lack of sovereignty resonates much further. If European leaders head to COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh in November, having backtracked on their decarbonisation goals, their claims to global climate leadership by example will be in tatters.

If we cannot as a minimum stick to the commitments we set ourselves on progress toward the Paris Agreement, we will have no hope of closing the trust gap with the global south that has opened over climate financing, debt relief and vaccine nationalism, and the journey to zero carbon globally will be in severe jeopardy.

The range of global warming-induced emergencies around the world in 2022 alone underlines the implications of a failure to hold firm on our climate goals for the future of humanity.

The honesty on all of the above that the EU’s leaders owe to their voters now, does not mean a message that all is lost. Rather it implies being clear that the deep crisis that the EU finds itself in is not only a result of insufficient solidarity as it is often being framed, but is a crisis of security in its purest sense.

In asking European businesses and consumers to limit their energy use to save for the winter, they are not being asked to ‘do the right thing’ but rather to protect themselves.

Planning and saving together is a means to one end: to enable the EU to sever its dependence on a vicious adversary who is trying to move the global system away from a rules-based order, toward a dog-eat-dog world in which the EU – founded on the principle of rule of law – has little hope of surviving.

It is the only way to enable the ambition of the European Green Deal to stay on track, retaining the space for investment not only in interim ‘dirty’ fuels, but also rapidly scaling up the EU’s renewable capacity. We need to work together, planning and pooling our collective resources to equip ourselves to fight back.

The EU’s leaders should strive for three things, in order to build the EU’s energy sovereignty in the coming weeks before the cold bites. Firstly, a collective narrative on the need for decarbonisation and energy efficiency at the core of our energy transition, across Europe, is shared between governments, industry and consumers.

Different stories cannot co-exist across intra-EU borders– leaders need to be clear that we will not pull through without action across all parts of European society. There has to be a willingness to share the political cost of this message across governing coalitions within nations and across the EU.

Secondly, a joint energy resilience plan for this winter – with member states planning together and sharing supplies.  This July’s EU Council goal of a reduction of 15% in gas demand this winter was a positive step, but the range of national efforts in follow-up point towards the need for a step change in the approach.

The EU needs to look strategically at collective European resources for this winter, before the likely shortages happen, to avoid piecemeal requests for goodwill from one member state to another becoming politicised and sowing further seeds of division.

This scenario is part of Moscow’s game plan with the punctual cuts to gas supply to EU states, and the EU needs to ward off its effectiveness through joint planning.

Thirdly, the current significant profits from electricity generated from clean sources in the EU are not being invested in scaling up capacity through wind, solar and hydrogen because of permit delays and insufficient incentives.

The EU’s leaders need to double down in their national plans on the ambition set out in the RePower EU strategy to massively – and rapidly  – scale up renewable power. The investment and planning response needs to be equal to the scale of the current crisis.

The EU has now reached its ‘whatever it takes’ moment on Putin’s manipulated energy crisis. Fortunately, the path forward is clear – EU governments must now show the political courage to take it.

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