How Europe’s Energy Transition Politics Affect the EU’s Response to the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Currently, the European Union is in the energy transition phase. In this phase, they begin to reduce the use of fossil fuel-based energy sources and switch to renewable energy-based energy sources. This process turned out to have various impacts on the European Union, mainly because of their dependence on natural gas owned by Russia. When viewed from the perspective of the political side of the energy transition, how will this energy transition process affect The European’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine? What paradoxes might arise in this energy transition process?

The spirit to encourage changes in the use of fossil fuel-based energy towards the use of renewable-based energy is currently being launched by the European Union. This energy transition occurs because it is mainly influenced by the Net Zero 2050 agenda which began with the Paris Agreement. Project Net Zero 2050 is a program formulated by the European Union which is based on the European Green Deal. In the European Green Deal initiated by The European in 2020, The European intends to encourage Europe to be the most important pioneer for the world to present efforts to reduce carbon emissions significantly, so the Net Zero 2050 project was initiated in this formulation. What was conveyed in the European Green Deal was that Europe wants a society and global economy that is cleaner from carbon emissions, as part of their commitment to follow up the 2015 Paris Agreement through COP21 which intends to withstand an increase in the earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the past. pre-industrial times.

One of the things that Europe wants to encourage is how Europe is able to push various missions that are directed at the creation of the European Green Deal, which is about how Europe initiates the idea of cleaner energy through various technological innovations. This idea is driven by the fact that the energy sector is one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions. Based on data released by Our World in Data, a scientific online publication portal, by the end of 2021 it has been found that 73% of total carbon emissions come from the energy sector which includes housing, industry, transportation, etc. Therefore, Europe considers that the commitment to reduce carbon emissions in the energy sector will have a significant impact on reducing global carbon emissions.

In the process of achieving Net Zero 2050, one of Europe’s commitments is to reduce investment in the fossil fuel-based energy sector. Vice versa, Europe encourages and directs new investment in the renewable energy sector. In addition, several countries in Europe have closed coal power plants and nuclear power plants. Like Germany, for example, until the end of 2021 they have phased out their 3 nuclear power plants. This step was followed by several other European countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, and Spain. In the formulation of the European Green Deal, Europe’s efforts to achieve Net Zero 2050 will not be able to be achieved if there are no interventions for other countries in other areas because the process is very interconnected because the problem of carbon emissions is a global problem, not only owned by Europe only.

As previously mentioned, Europe reduces investment in the energy sector based on fossil resources and encourages investment in the renewable energy sector. Here, then a problem arises. If investment in the energy sector based on fossil resources is suppressed in such a way, then what should be done in the process of transitioning energy to renewable energy? In this energy transition phase, natural gas becomes an important element. Although natural gas is still classified as a fossil fuel, natural gas is considered to be relatively much cleaner than coal and oil. Natural gas is used as an energy source in the energy transition process in Europe. So currently, Europe relies heavily on the existence of a natural gas supply. Especially during this pandemic, energy needs in Europe have increased sharply due to the ‘work from home’ trend to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection. This pandemic hit Europe’s very high energy demand and at the same time had to deal with the problem of limited natural gas supply. This has created a rate of increase in the price of electricity per megawatt hour which has soared, from 2020 with a price of around 60 euros to an increase to almost 300 euros in January 2022. Of course, this is the gateway to the energy crisis experienced by several groups of people in Europe who create problems for the middle to lower economic class who have to pay expensive energy, which is 400% to 500% of the normal price.

This could happen because European domestic investment in the oil and gas sector experienced a sharp decline and was shifted to renewable energy investment. In this case, the problem is that Europe is not able to meet the demand for natural gas supply for its energy consumption level, so Europe needs natural gas supplies from outside Europe. The implication of this policy is that Europe needs natural gas supplies from outside Europe. Outside of Europe, Russia and Norway make a big contribution to being Europe’s largest natural gas supplier, with Russia accounting for 41% and Norway at 35% in EUROstat data. So, in this energy transition phase, Europe relies heavily on Russia in meeting energy consumption needs in its region. Of course, this has implications for Europe’s position on the ongoing invasion conflict by Russia against Ukraine.

Russia is the number 1 owner of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. Russia had 1,688 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven gas reserves in 2017 and accounted for about 24% of the world’s total natural gas reserves of 6,923 Tcf. With this number of natural gas reserves, of course it will increase Russia’s bargaining power against the west. This is because Russia is aware that Europe has a high dependence on Russia. With the Nordstream 1 and 2 projects that flow natural gas from Russia to Germany, the cost of importing natural gas is cheaper because in the process there is no need to go through other countries. This project is envisaged to make Russia a petrostate that will strengthen in the near future.

The strength of Russia’s natural resources which has the largest natural gas reserves in the world makes Russia’s bargaining power high to the west. Russia is using this as a political tool to its advantage. Because of the western dependence on Russia economically through dependence on natural gas supplies as the main energy source at this time, Russia knows that politically Europe will not want to intervene in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Thus, Russia feels free to invade Ukraine and creates a paradigm in the global community that the European Union is leaving Ukraine. In a situation like this, the European Union cannot move and is not free to provide assistance to Ukraine. Of course, this weakens European diplomatic bargaining power, thus making the diplomatic options that Europe can do to Russia as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are very limited. One of the things that Europe can do is to stop the Nordstream 2 project which is currently under construction. This option of action is considered to provide diplomatic pressure against Russia, but it is still a challenge whether it succeeds or not.

To sum it all up, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected the EU’s energy transition politics. Europe’s experience in encouraging the Net Zero 2050 project to radically reduce carbon emissions by closing power plants based on coal and nuclear energy, as well as reducing and suppressing investment in the oil and gas sector, ultimately has to deal with Europe’s energy security problems. Therefore, they have to import natural gas energy in large enough quantities and percentages and make Europe highly dependent on Russia as the largest holder of natural gas reserves in the world. This is what makes the conflict process in Ukraine very complex. The point is about how then there is a paradox that emerges from this process. On the one hand, there are European efforts to encourage the reduction of fossil energy with the Net Zero project. However, on the other hand, this energy transition process occurs with the choice of strategies that do not take into account quite a lot of things broadly. In fact, other things have proven to make fossil fuels an important element in the development process of energy use today. Energy consumption does not decrease, it will increase with this invasion conflict. This is a paradox for Europe’s commitment to realizing the use of clean and renewable energy to reduce the rate of global carbon emissions, as well as a turning point where natural gas was previously seen as a solution that bridges Europe to secure energy supply in the energy transition phase. But now, unfortunately, it is seen as a source of problems due to dependence on imports of natural gas supplies from Russia. Therefore, this position is considered very unfavorable for Europe diplomatically in positioning itself in the midst of the Russian invasion conflict against Ukraine.

Fitri Maharani
Fitri Maharani
Student at Faculty of Law, Universitas Islam Indonesia