By Ella Nilsen
As Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine disrupts energy supply and forces world leaders to examine their dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, leaders in the United States and Europe are scrambling to fill the gaps.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week advocated for new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea in the name of energy security, and there are talks in the UK and in Germany of delaying the closure of some coal-fired power plants.
There’s also increased pressure on the oil- and natural gas-rich US to produce more to send to Europe, and US President Joe Biden is trying to get Middle Eastern countries to produce more oil to help bring sky-high gasoline prices down.
This is all bad news for the climate crisis — which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels — but they are short-term responses. There is also good reason to believe that the upheaval brought by Russia’s war will speed the transition to clean energy in the long run.
While Johnson wrote of more drilling, he also wrote of doubling down on renewable energy, such as solar or wind power. A UK government spokesperson told CNN that a new energy strategy to be revealed next week will “supercharge” its renewables and nuclear capacity.
In Germany, which is highly dependent on Russian gas, the government brought forward its deadline for a full transition to renewables in its power sector by at least five years, to 2035.
But in the US, the path toward a clean energy transition has stalled in the Congress.
The renewables race
In an interview with The Washington Post, International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol said Monday he believed the current situation in Europe was the first truly global energy crisis the world has faced — and could shape global energy for years to come.
“It can be a turning point,” Birol said, noting that governments responded to the oil shortage of the 1970s by making cars more fuel efficient and investing in nuclear energy. “I am also hopeful that at the end of the first global energy crisis, countries, not just states, will come up with new energy policies accelerating the clean energy transitions.”
Europe is already heading in that direction.
“It’s amazing how fast the Europeans have moved,” said Sam Ori, executive director of the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. “They’re racing toward clean electricity.”