Energy security the clean way

As world leaders scramble to the challenge of rising fuel prices, experts say climate-friendly changes can meet the need.

Climate activists demonstrate outside the European Parliament, July 5, in Strasbourg, France.

On July 6, European lawmakers designated carbon-emitting natural gas as a sustainable energy source. On the same day, the British government launched an ambitious package of energy measures, including caps on gasoline prices.

In the United States, meanwhile, a pro-climate president, Joe Biden, is likely to sell new oil leases in offshore waters and will visit Saudi Arabia next week in hopes it will export more oil. In South Korea, which is the world’s fourth-biggest oil importer, the government announced plans July 5 to greatly expand imports to boost strategic oil reserves.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the issue of energy security has shot to the top of the global agenda, appearing to overshadow progress on climate-friendly policies. It was a hot topic at June’s gathering of G-7 leading industrial nations and has gained urgency for a meeting of G-20 foreign ministers next week. About 80% of the world’s population lives in countries that are net energy importers.

Leaders almost everywhere are responding to the rising costs of fuel caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, pandemic-era stimulus spending, and supply chain slowdowns. Last year, Russia was the world’s largest oil and natural gas exporter. Now it faces boycotts of its fossil fuels.

For the European Union – the world leader in climate policy – Russia’s cuts in gas deliveries to 12 of the EU’s 27 member states have led to energy security becoming the bloc’s second priority after the war in Ukraine. A few countries, such as Germany, have reverted to coal-fired power.

“The current crisis has fully revealed how existentially important it is for the future of the EU to ensure its independence from countries that threaten our security,” said Petr Fiala, prime minister of the Czech Republic and the new president of the EU Council. He added that each EU country must choose how to meet its own climate goals and withdraw from Russian energy supplies.

While the initial panic over the energy shock may have revived fossil fuel use, that does not mean clean energy and fuel efficiency efforts will lose out. “The world does not need to choose between solving the energy security crisis and the climate crisis – we have the technologies and the policies to solve both at once,” says Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

He told world leaders at the G-7 summit that countries can rapidly scale up energy efficiency and renewables as part of the adjustment to the gas and oil shock. Global spending on clean energy reached a record level by 2022. In other words, the world need not accept the seemingly opposing agendas of energy security and clean energy.

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