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European University Institute - Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Energy Sobriety: Our Deadly Weapon against Putin

“Never has the energy sobriety of our fellow citizens been so crucial for our destiny”

11 March 2022 | Opinion

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In 2019, Russia’s fossil fuel exports were worth $233 billion, or 14% of that country’s GDP. Half of these exports went to European consumers. Since then, the prices of natural gas, coal and oil on European markets have increased by a factor of, respectively, eight, five and two. This is a great deal of money for the Russian war machine. To date Europeans have not dared turn off the taps because of their heavy dependence on Russian energy. This guilty passivity makes us complicit in the tragedy taking place today in Ukraine and with no doubt elsewhere tomorrow. Turn on your boiler, start up your car, even turn on your lights and you are contributing to Russian victory.

Europeans must free, as a matter of urgency, themselves from their dependence on Russian energy. The European Green Deal will help us to do this. After all, the objective is to reduce CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030. This will lead to the elimination of coal and, then, natural gas, from the European electricity mix. But the Green Deal will take time. Progress can only be achieved with investments in renewable energy and by the electrification of energy: tangible results in terms of climate and security will take years to be achieved.

Now rising fossil fuel prices should nudge consumers to decarbonise their lifestyles, much as happened with the oil shocks at the end of the last century. But as at that time, it will not happen immediately. This is particularly true with electricity. Our European electricity mix is still carbon intensive.

Indeed, the price of electricity on the European spot market has risen from an average of €32/MWh in 2020 to more than €200 in recent months, and up to €700 in recent days. Our government, though, has decided to protect consumers from these new high prices, by freezing the price of electricity. This way, each kilowatt badly spent impoverishes Europe and enriches the Russian army, but French consumers can rest easy because their purchasing power is assured. This prize freeze is meant to come to the rescue of the poorest households, but it also implies a flagrant support for the Russian aggression.

As always, we are individually responsible. Each of us must act both to oppose the war in Europe and to stop climate change. Never has our fellow citizens energy sobriety been so central to our destiny as a civilisation. Lower your thermostats a few degrees! Organise car-free Sundays! Take other steps to reduce energy consumption! Not only can we save a multitude of lives in Eastern Europe. We can also spare future generations from climate disruption. Let’s get ahead of any Russian embargo and show that we don’t need their hydrocarbons. By reducing our consumption of fossil fuels, we affirm our individual and collective will to save both our democracies and our environment.

Read the article in French by Jean-Michel Glachant and Christian Gollier on Le Monde.

Last update: 15 March 2022

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