by Mieke Molthof. Originally published on 2014/04/07

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has instigated a vigorous debate in the EU the best way to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have raised fear for disruptions in gas supplies to the EU. Russia is seen as having engaged in pipeline politics (i.e. turning off the taps for geopolitical leverage) during the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis of 2009, and many in the EU are concerned that the Russians will do so again in relation to the current standoff over Crimea. Russia is Europe’s most important energy supplier. In total, Russia supplies around a third of the EU’s gas, half of which flows through Ukrainian pipes (Oliver & Cienski, 2014). A few weeks ago, European leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss the 2030 framework for energy and climate policy against the background of the current crisis in Ukraine. However, the Ukraine crisis clouded the discussions on energy efficiency and renewable energy, even though the developments in Ukraine could have served as an important catalyst for endorsing an ambitious green energy and climate policy.

Originally, the summit was supposed to reach agreement on the main tenets of a new EU climate package, including a 40 percent reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions, a 27 percent target for energy renewables, and a new governance structure under which the Commission would review whether member states’ plans are sufficiently aligned with the EU’s climate and energy policy. Yet, as the EU heads of state and government are caught up in the crisis in Ukraine, decisions on new targets have been relegated to October. It is now expected that no formal legislative proposals will be agreed before 2015 (Bailey & Froggatt, 2014).

During the summit, the EU heads of state and government primarily focused on the issue of energy dependence and on the question of how to enhance European energy security. European Council President Herman van Rompuy announced that the EU will accelerate its efforts to reduce energy dependency. Van Rompuy underlined that the issue of energy security is especially relevant in the context of the crisis in Ukraine. Even though the European leaders also talked about energy efficiency and renewables, the policy discussions signalled a particular emphasis on security of supply. The Council called for further action on the Southern Gas Corridor and an examination of ways to facilitate natural gas exports from the US (European Council, 2014). However, in fixating their gaze on the need to diversify gas supplies, the European leaders neglected the potential of an ambitious renewable energy and climate policy – based on binding targets – for achieving the objective of energy security. Reducing the demand for gas, either through more efficiency or use of renewables, are equally if not more effective ways of making progress towards the objective of energy security (Bailey & Froggatt, 2014).

Focusing too narrowly on the crisis in Ukraine, and delaying the decision on new targets, also threatens the EU’s ambition to regain its leadership in climate diplomacy. A new global climate deal is meant to be agreed at the 2015 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Paris next year. Now is therefore not the time to postpone a decision on the Commission’s 2030 package of proposals for climate and energy policy, even if it is only for six months. The delay threatens the EU’s foothold in climate and green energy policies and leaves the EU with no agreed targets and a weakened position at the UN climate summit. This makes it more difficult for the EU to take the lead in climate diplomacy. For decades the EU has been a frontrunner, and indecisiveness on its part may weaken the impetus for other countries to act. An early decision on binding targets by the EU would have testified to the EU’s climate leadership and potentially encouraged countries like the US and China to make a similar pledge – thereby enhancing the chances of an ambitious climate deal at the summit in 2015 (Van Renssen, 2014).

It is understandable that the recent developments in Crimea put the Ukraine crisis at the forefront of discussions among the EU heads of state and government, and that the primary focus at the moment is energy security. Yet, for the long-term, it is vital that the EU endorses a more holistic policy and treats the climate package as a vehicle for enhancing energy security. Instead of letting the Ukraine crisis cloud the discussions on a new climate and energy policy, Europe’s policy-makers would do well to use the recent events in Ukraine as a catalyst for endorsing a more holistic vision and renewing the EU’s leadership in climate diplomacy.

Further Reading

Westphal, K. (2014). Russian energy supplies to Europe. The Crimea crisis: mutual dependency, lasting collateral damage and strategic alternatives for the European Union. SWP Comments 16, March 2014.

References

Bailey, R. & Frogatt, A. (2014). Ukraine crisis shifts EU’s energy focus. Chatham House. 24 March 2014. http://www.chathamhouse.org.

European Council (2014). Conclusions – 20-21 March 2014.

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/141749.pdf

Oliver, C. & Cienski, I. (2014). Energy security: The price of diversity. Financial Times. 23 February 2014. http://www.ft.com.

Van Renssen, S. (2014). EU leaders fail to connect Ukraine crisis to climate and energy policy. 24 March 2014. http://www.energypost.eu.

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