A win-win-win strategy for ending European energy dependence

Europe can liberate itself from the annexation of its energy policy by Russian gas suppliers and deliver a win on energy independence, a win on climate change and a win on the economy. The answer to the current political turmoil of President Putin’s threat in a letter to EU leaders that that gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine will be stopped on 1 June, unless Kiev starts paying upfront for the gas lies in the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. It is that simple if European political leaders can show courage and leadership.

If carried out it would also be the third time Gazprom has cut off European gas exports. In 2006 and 2009, similar action resulted in Slovakia declaring a state of emergency, Bulgaria simply running out of gas, and Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland reporting a 30% drop in pipe pressure.

In recent weeks, EU leaders have once again been scrambling to put emergency measures in place. But at next month’s EU Summit, where they will debate what energy and climate policies to set for beyond 2020, they have the opportunity to choose real independence and break the cycle of co-option and chaos. By choosing energy efficiency and renewables the EU can set its own course for now and forever.

Replacing energy supplies from Russia with nuclear energy and fossil fuels from elsewhere, as has been suggested, such as the Middle East or North Africa, is not the answer. The planned Southern Gas Corridor, for example, is initially expected to deliver only 10-20 billion cubic meters of gas per year, off-setting a mere 8% of Russian gas imports.

We should not be thinking about changing the dealer but of kicking the dirty energy habit. The choice is not between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The choice is between dirty and clean energy providers and between climate chaos and conflict, it’s a choice between the past and the future. We can choose for a win-win-win for the climate, the economy and people.

Energy building insulation programmes, for example, could deliver major cuts in energy imports within months.  Rooftop solar panels can be installed in a matter of weeks. In 2012 alone, Europe built enough new renewable energy installations to replace over 10% of Russian gas imports and power over eight million homes, generating a huge number of jobs in the process.

The potential for clean energy is enormous. Not only could it meet almost half of our energy demand in 2030, but with the right policies in place, we could also replace the equivalent of the EU’s total current gas imports from Russia. It would also enable European governments to show real leadership turning this crisis into an opportunity for peaceful energy solutions cutting our dependence on sources that have been the triggers for wars and conflict for centuries.

Choosing fossil fuels and nuclear energy at the June EU summit would simply extend our dependence on dirty, volatile and dangerous fuels.  Undermining both energy and conventional security. Opting for clean, modern energy would create jobs and industries that would unlock real energy security. The answer is a Europe-wide clean technology network.  Costs are falling, the technology is ready, and the time is now. This crisis should be viewed as an opportunity.

While the oil, coal, gas and nuclear companies are lobbying hard to keep us hooked on their dirty and dangeruous fuels, I call on EU leaders to take action to put the European Union on the path to real independence and security.  As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”  Fossil fuels and nuclear energy got us into this mess – they won’t get us out of it. Clean energy will.

Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

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