Europe is planning to slash consumption of Russian natural gas this year as it prepares for a complete break with its single biggest energy supplier over the war in Ukraine.
EU officials on Tuesday outlined a plan to achieve energy independence from Moscow “well before 2030.” The European Union would start by reducing demand for Russian natural gas by two thirds this year. Those plans will be discussed at an emergency summit of EU leaders in France on Thursday.
“We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.”
The European Union depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas. Russia also supplies about 27% of the 27-country bloc’s oil imports, and 46% of its coal imports. Taken together, that trade is worth tens of billions of dollars a year to Russia, helping to finance President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
Frans Timmermans, EU climate policy chief, said the war in Ukraine underscored the urgent need to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Europe could replace 100 billion cubic meters of Russian gas imports by the end of 2022, he added.
“That is two thirds of what we import from them,” he told reporters. “Two thirds by the end of this year. It’s hard, bloody hard but it’s possible if we’re willing to go further and faster than we’ve done before,” he added.
Russia’s vast energy exports had been carved out of unprecedented sanctions imposed by the West in response to Putin’s decision to order the invasion of Ukraine.
But the Biden administration on Tuesday announced an outright ban on all Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports. And the UK government said Tuesday it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022 and explore ways of ending natural gas imports too.
EU leaders have made clear this week that the bloc can’t yet join the United States in banning Russian oil, because of the impact that would have on households and businesses already grappling with record high prices for fuel and heating. Europe gets much more of its energy from Russia than either the United States or United Kingdom.
But Europe knows it needs to act fast to reduce the potential for Moscow to use energy as a weapon in the escalating economic warfare unleashed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said Monday Russia could cut off the supply of gas to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in retaliation for Berlin blocking the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
In their push for energy independence, EU leaders need to find a way to secure supplies and protect households and businesses from soaring prices, while at the same time ensuring the bloc meets its climate targets of slashing carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050.
In addition to accelerating the adoption of renewable energy, the European Commission’s plan calls for tapping alternative supplies, including shipments of liquefied natural gas, boosting production and imports of biomethane and renewable hydrogen, and upgrading buildings to reduce consumption.
The International Energy Agency said last week that Europe could make a big dent in Russian gas imports within a year, while accelerating its shift to clean energy “in a secure and affordable way.”
“Nobody is under any illusions anymore. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon show Europe needs to act quickly to be ready to face considerable uncertainty over Russian gas supplies next winter,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.
— CNN’s Angela Dewan, Chris Liakos, Anna Stewart, Boglarka Kosztolanyi and Inke Kappeler contributed to this article.