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EU moves to significantly cut imports of Russian fossil fuels as MEPs eye alternatives

The EU’s Standing Rapporteur on Ukraine says Europe should impose an embargo on the import of Russian fossil fuels.

Lauren Boland reports from the EU Parliament in Strasbourg 

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has proposed a plan to cut Europe’s dependence on Russia for fossil fuels by two-thirds before the end of this year.

Sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concerns about energy supply, the EU proposal would diversify gas supplies, increase the use of renewable energy, and reduce the use of fossil fuels by increasing energy efficiency.

The outline of the REPowerEU plan, announced today, says that the measures could remove at least 155 billion cubic metres (bcm) of fossil gas use from Europe, which is the same volume that was imported from Russia in 2021.

Nearly two-thirds of that reduction could be reached this year, it outlines.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated multiple existing problems with how the EU uses fossil fuels – both the dependence on a single country outside the bloc for a significant proportion of imports and the dangerous effects on the climate of burning fossil fuels in the first instance.

In Strasbourg, where members of the European Parliament (MEP) are meeting this week for a plenary session, Russian oil and gas are at the forefront of legislators’ minds.

Speaking to reporters in the EP today, Michael Gahler, a German MEP and the EU’s Standing Rapporteur on Ukraine, said Europe should impose an embargo on the import of Russian fossil fuels.

“I personally am very much convinced and really motivated to get the European Union to now impose a comprehensive oil and gas embargo,” Gahler said.

“I’m aware it’s difficult,” he said.

“We need this comprehensive embargo because we need to pull all the strings now while the fight is ongoing and not think of the next season ‘will we have enough gas’ – we will have enough gas in the European Union for this winter season, that has been confirmed not only by the European Commission President but elsewhere, there are many experts saying that as well.”

Gahler said the EU can take “precautionary measures” for the following winter to safeguard energy supplies, mentioning an expansion of liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure.

“My point is to say let us not now, with arguments for next winter, avoid the necessary sanctions.”

Irish MEP Seán Kelly, who sits in the same European political grouping as Gahler, said that “if we weren’t as dependent on them, you’d cut them off in the morning”.

Speaking to reporters, Kelly said that the EU “will be looking at, in the short-term, I think, utilising – like in Germany – nuclear power stations which they were going to close, extending their lifetime; coal mines in Poland; etc etc, as a short-term response until we get away from this and get our own renewables”.

“There are two ways to do it. One – secure our short-term energy so that the lights will stay on. Two – get Fit for 55 projects, renewable projects up and running as quickly as possible,” Kelly said.

“In 20 years time, this shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll have 100% energy within the European Union. We’ll be self-sufficient. That’d be fantastic. The sooner it happens the better.”

Burning fossil fuels like oil and gas is a key driver of climate change, releasing large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and triggering rises in global temperatures. 

‘We have to get out of this addiction to fossil fuels’

Grace O’Sullivan, an Irish MEP for the Green Party, described Russian gas imports as “blood red”.

“We really do not want to be paying top money to fuel this atrocity that we’re seeing at the moment. More than ever, we need to recognise that we have to get out of this addiction to fossil fuels,” O’Sullivan said.

“We’ve got a huge problem with climate change. We have to wean ourselves off this addiction to fossil fuels,” she said.

“But moreover, I’m saying not only fossil fuels, but also dependency on regimes that are massacring a population of Ukrainians in an awful way.

We have seen the price of clean energies – wind and solar – going down. We do have opportunities.

“And now at a rate of real speed, we need to leverage every bit of support and investment into making the alternative happen so that we don’t have that dependency.”

Polling by Ireland Thinks for climate campaign group Friends of the Earth found that 81% of people in Ireland think the EU should consider boycotting Russian gas as part of measures opposing its invasion of Ukraine.

Asked what the EU should priorise as an alternative if less gas reaches Ireland as a result of the war, 62% said developing more renwable energy, 18% said building terminals to import LNG from the US and Middle East, and 13% said supporting people to reduce their need for fossil fuel energy.

3% said none of the above and 4% didn’t know. 

The poll used a representative sample of 1,011 people. 

Earlier today, the United States announced that it will ban imports of Russian oil and gas, extending its package of sanctions against Moscow once again since the measures first began in the days before the invasion.

In an address from the White House, US President Joe Biden said Russian oil would no longer be accepted at US ports.

The UK has similarly indicated that it will phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

In Ireland, Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan said that the war in Ukraine is “affecting everything and influencing what we’re doing and what we’re thinking about”.

“We need to radically reduce our climate emissions, we need to switch away from reliance on imported fossil fuels,” the minister said.

I’m seeing a lot of interesting messages out there at the moment on taking on what’s happening in Ukraine by switching away from those fossil fuels that Mr Putin is using the revenue from to maintain and progress the war.

“The key approach in this is that we follow a common European approach,” he said.

“If we were divided, if there ended up being different approaches in different parts of Europe, that would serve the interests of Mr Putin, not European citizens or the people of Ukraine. So coordinated, combined response is key.” 

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