Heat wave complicates global energy crisis and fight against climate change
The deadly heat and Russia’s war in Ukraine deliver a brutal double whammy, shaking up the global energy market and forcing some of the world’s largest economies into a desperate scramble to secure electricity for their citizens.
This week, Europe found itself in a bad feedback loop as record high temperatures sent demand for electricity soaring but also forced severe power cuts at nuclear power plants across the region as the extreme heat made it difficult to cool the reactors.
France on Tuesday detailed its plan to renationalize its public electricity service, EDF, to consolidate the country’s energy independence by renewing its fleet of aging nuclear power plants. Russia, which for decades supplied much of Europe’s natural gas, has kept Europe guessing whether it will resume gas flows later this week through a key pipeline. Germany has pushed the European Union to greenlight cheap loans for new gas projects, potentially prolonging its dependence on fossil fuels for decades.
The cascading effects of war and the coronavirus pandemic on energy and food prices have hurt the world’s poorest citizens the most. In Africa, 25 million more people now live without electricity, compared to before the pandemic, the International Energy Agency estimated.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history, extreme temperatures have scorched swaths of the South and West as prospects for national climate change legislation climate were collapsing in the nation’s capital. At the same time, global oil companies reported a sharp rise in profits as oil and gas prices soared.
Indeed, the world’s ability to slow climate change has not only been undermined by the producers of the fossil fuels that are responsible for climate change, but even more challenged by deadly heat – a telltale marker of climate change.
At a global conference to kick-start climate action in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called climate change “the biggest security challenge” facing the world and urged countries to use Russia’s war as an impetus to move faster to renewable energy. “Today, fossil fuels are a sign of dependence and lack of freedom,” she said on Tuesday. Germany depends on piped Russian gas for 35% of its energy needs.
At the same conference, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it more bluntly. “We continue to feed our addiction to fossil fuels,” he said.
The Berlin meeting took place against the backdrop of a dark moment in global climate action.
Without climate legislation in Washington, it is virtually impossible for the United States to meet its national climate goal, nor can it exert much diplomatic pressure on China to slow its rising emissions.
Europe is moving away from fossil fuels
The European Union has started a transition to greener forms of energy. But financial and geopolitical considerations could complicate efforts.
China currently produces the world’s largest share of the gases that warm the planet and plays a central role in the planet’s climate future: it burns more coal than any other country today, but it also produces the largest share of new green gases in the world. technology, including solar panels and electric buses.
A big question mark looms over whether European Union lawmakers will use the invasion of Ukraine to hasten their move away from fossil fuels, or whether they will simply import gas from places other than Russia. .
The stakes are high. The EU’s own climate law requires the bloc of 27 countries to cut emissions by 55% by 2030. More coal-fired power plants are about to close than ever before, and there is no evidence that Europe is going back to coal for good, even if some countries are resuming the operation of coal-fired power plants to meet immediate energy needs. “Coal is not coming back,” reads the title of a report published last week by Ember, a research group.
EU lawmakers are also encouraging building owners to retrofit older homes and businesses to improve energy efficiency. And under EU law, no new cars with internal combustion engines should be sold from 2035.
On the contrary, say analysts, the current crisis draws attention to the fact of not doing it sooner. “We have seen progress, but if we look at the big picture, it’s not enough,” said Hanna Fekete, a climate policy analyst at the NewClimate Institute, a Cologne-based organization that promotes climate change efforts. climate change. “We have missed so many energy efficiency opportunities.”
The biggest effect of the global energy crisis is on the world’s ability to slow climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming, as greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere trap the sun’s heat, raising global average temperatures and fueling extreme weather events, including record-breaking heat.
With wealthy industrialized countries like the United States and those in Europe unwilling to move away from fossil fuels, emerging economies are resisting pressure to do so. After all, they argue, it is the world’s richest nations – not the poorest – who are primarily responsible for the generations of greenhouse gas emissions that are now destroying the climate and disproportionately harming to the poorest.
This point was made loud and clear by South African Environment Minister Barbara Creecy at the Berlin conference this week. “Developed countries must continue to lead the way with ambitious actions,” she said. “The ultimate measure of climate leadership is not what countries do in times of comfort and convenience, but what they do in times of challenge and controversy.”
Rich countries have yet to deliver the promised $100 billion in annual funding to help poor countries switch to renewable energy. Many countries already in debt are taking on more debt as they try to recover from extreme weather disasters exacerbated by climate change.
Russia, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, invaded Ukraine at a time when energy prices were already rising.
At the end of last year, oil and gas prices were high and rising, in part because US oil and gas production fell at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and never recovered. .
Russia began limiting supplies to Europe as early as last September, helping to push electricity prices in Europe at the time to their highest levels in more than a decade. At the same time, gas demand in Europe rebounded as the economy recovered from pandemic shutdowns and mild weather drove down wind power.
In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, and Russia further reduced gas flows to European customers, starting with Bulgaria and Poland in April. Germany fears it may be next as the country waits to see whether Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, will resume flows through the pipeline that connects Siberian gas fields to the German coast. It was closed on July 11 for what is supposed to be just 10 days of annual maintenance.
Several European countries are currently struggling to fill their gas storage tanks in time to have enough energy to heat homes and run industry in the winter. EU officials fear that if Russia does not resume gas flows, the bloc will miss its target of 80% capacity by early November.
“The world has never witnessed an energy crisis so major in its depth and complexity,” said the head of the International Energy Agency. Fatih Birolsaid last week.