Russia’s war in Ukraine: Why doubling down on the Green Deal is the best strategy
As EU leaders meet in Versailles, energy is set to be a key topic. But leaders must ensure that the decisions they make to break away from Russian energy push the EU in the direction of sustainability, argue European sustainability think tanks.
This commentary was originally published in Euractiv
The world has changed drastically in a matter of days, and in Europe, these changes are set to reshape the entire nature and ethos of the European project.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to take a heavy toll, the heads of state and government gathering in Versailles today and tomorrow (10-11 March) will need to take actions that support Ukraine while also shoring up the bloc’s own strategic autonomy from Moscow.
The European Green Deal will be crucial for the success of this strategy.
1. The lasting impact of emergency decisions on the European Green Deal
Firstly, EU leaders are facing emergency decisions that stand to have lasting effects on the implementation of the Green Deal, especially when it comes to energy policy.
There is now a far greater need for the bloc to decarbonise its energy systems and reduce its reliance on imported oil and gas from Russia.
However, making this shift happen in the immediate future presents enormous risks. Short-term measures, such as finding alternative fossil fuel suppliers and products that can fulfil immediate energy needs, might create detrimental lock-in effects.
In this context, the call by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to accelerate the decarbonisation of the energy system is highly welcome.
To make Europe more independent and resilient, it will be key to proceed with Fit for 55 negotiations, accelerate industrial transformation, retain a focus on medium and long-term strategies and have clear phase-out clauses for emergency measures that might go against Europe’s carbon neutrality.
2. Green strategic autonomy embedded in the Green Deal objectives
The Green Deal was not originally conceived as a peace- and security-building instrument. But the growing consensus in Europe around the need to achieve a green strategic autonomy for Europe requires ending our dependence on foreign fossil fuels and increasing security of supply for green energy.
Such a change in direction will have major implications on several files, from the Fit for 55 package to the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, and from the Circular Economy Action Plan to the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Having an evidence-based debate on what constitutes green strategic autonomy will be essential to prevent vested interests from capturing the debate to their advantage, as demonstrated by the current controversy on food security.
3. The need for a common energy strategy
The principled stance to heavily criticise Russia and welcome refugees that all Visegrad countries took on the invasion despite the vulnerability of their energy system could signal a shift in the traditional divide between East and West on energy issues.
It is now becoming very clear that national energy choices are no longer a mere domestic issue, leading to calls for much greater unity around Europe’s energy strategy, that would go beyond the Energy Union, with associated policy and funding instruments and a much greater emphasis on renewable energy, green energy storage, solidarity and demand-management as a key axis for energy security and decarbonisation.
4. The solidarity challenge
In the context of the Fit for 55 legislative package, heated debates have already been taking place between key stakeholders on intra- and inter-country equity challenges posed by its potential impact on consumer prices.
With the influx of refugees and the unequal and differentiated impact that a cut-off from Russian supplies will have on member states, the solidarity challenge will resurface at the centre stage of the debates.
Discussions ranging from the sharing of funds for new green investments to the design of the Social Climate Fund need to lead to much greater solidarity between countries and citizens of Europe.
5. Engaging citizens and companies
As policy choices will have almost immediate effects on the price of essential goods and services, governments will be faced with the need to engage with citizens and corporations.
Community ownership of green energy, energy efficiency and reducing energy demand (especially conventional fossil fuels) should be promoted amongst consumers.
This means having the courage to discuss the issue of sufficiency, a concept from which policymakers have so far shied away. A European-wide Green Deal Communication campaign focused on grassroots engagement is needed more than ever.
6. Promoting global cooperation
As the EU looks to build its strategic autonomy, what the bloc itself looks like is set to change. But these changes must not lead to Europe closing itself off from the wider world.
This is a moment for building deeper relationships with the Global South, particularly Africa, rather than allowing for further fragmentation between world regions. A stronger Green Deal diplomatic effort focused on cooperation can pave the way for these relationships to grow and deepen.
When they meet today and tomorrow, EU heads of state will need to make very tough decisions, many of which might redefine the European project.
Let’s make sure that the new European Union that will emerge fully contributes to European and global peacebuilding by accelerating its own green transition.
*While this editorial was being published, the European Commission proposed an outline of a plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030 and a reduction of gas imports by 2/3 by the end of the year.
Co-signed by members of the Think Sustainable Europe network:
Céline Charveriat, Executive Director, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP); Camilla Bausch, Scientific & Executive Director, Ecologic Institute; Sébastien Treyer, Executive Director, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI); Måns Nilsson, Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI); Alexander Müller, Managing Director, TMG – Töpfer Müller Gaßner GmbH; María José Sanz Sánchez, Scientific Director, Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3); Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, Executive Director, IISD Europe; Ioli Christopoulou, Policy Director, The Green Tank; Katarzyna Zwolak, Executive Director, WiseEuropa; Vít Dostál, Executive Director, AMO; Martina Méhes, Managing and Policy Director, EnergiaKlub; Raimondo Orsini, Director, Sustainable Development Foundation.