Russian natural gas, or the lack of it, is wreaking havoc in Europe. Retaliation for the plethora of sanctions levied against Russia has materialized as a near-total halt of exports of Russian gas into Europe, leaving many countries vulnerable and reverting to traditional energy sources.
Prior to the invasion and subsequent war in Ukraine, Russia supplied European Union states with 40 percent of their natural gas. In some EU states, dependence on Russian gas was even greater. For example, in 2020, Germany relied on Russian natural gas for 65 percent of its total consumption. Now, those supplies of Russian gas have slowed significantly, and threats of a total stoppage of Russian gas exports is a real concern.
The consequences of limited Russian gas in Europe are many and varied. Economically, natural gas prices have soared and futures indicate that they could continue to rise by 50 percent in the next month alone. The environmental consequences will likely rise from the reactionary measures taken to abate the shortened supply of natural gas.
Those measures include a retreat from cleaner energy sources back to traditional sources such as coal. It was announced earlier this week that Germany had decided to reopen coal-fired power plants that previously sat idle; a “bitter,” yet “essential,” decision according to Germany’s economy minister Roberty Habeck.
This is not unique to Germany. In fact, a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that global investments in coal are rising, and are expected to grow by 10 percent in just this year alone.
However, new agreements between US natural gas companies and EU states could provide relief to Europe in the coming years. In fact, a deal was struck recently between American liquefied natural gas exporter Venture Global LNG and German energy company EnBW to export 1.5 million tons of LNG to Europe for the next 20 years. However, that will not begin until 2026. This new relationship is unsurprising, as the newly created Task Force for Energy Security, a partnership between the US and the European Commission, calls for a substantial rise in LNG exports from the US into Europe for the remainder of the decade.
Though plans are being put into action to address current energy security concerns globally in the long-term, short-term solutions may be seen as steps in the wrong direction environmentally. Other, less carbon-intensive solutions, such as quickly ramping up US exports of LNG or more rapid development of renewable energy sources could ease some of the problems but it is still likely that the emissions goals set by some European countries will suffer a setback.