Decarbonization Is Now a Strategic Imperative
Although a rapid reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions was already needed to address climate change, the task has become doubly urgent in response to Russia's territorial aggression and weaponization of energy supplies. Achieving net-zero emissions must now be a central objective of defense and security policy.
BRUSSELS – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced the European Union to accelerate the pace of our energy and climate policy. Since the Kremlin has increasingly used energy as a tool for political influence, we must deprive it of its leverage by radically reducing our dependence on fossil-fuel imports from Russia.
The geopolitical rationale for doing so overlaps with the imperative to tackle climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report on mitigation underscores the urgency of that task. Total greenhouse-gas emissions must peak by 2025 if we are to avoid a catastrophic increase in global temperatures. Moreover, the economy-wide shift to clean energy must be managed carefully to account for the inevitable social and economic consequences; it must be a “just transition.”
The EU and the European Investment Bank have a vital role to play in this transition. Investments in renewables, energy efficiency, and innovative technologies such as green hydrogen are important tools for dealing with Russia’s aggression and helping to save the planet from dependence on fossil fuels. Every euro we spend on the energy transition at home is a euro we keep out of the hands of an authoritarian power that wages aggressive war. Every euro we spend on clean energy enhances our freedom to make our own decisions. Every euro we spend helping our international partners accelerate their own decarbonization strategies is an investment in resilience and in the fight against climate change.
Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, the EU has been accelerating its energy transition plans to help end Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil-fuel imports as soon as possible. Although this will not happen overnight, the incentives to do so are now greater than ever. We can achieve energy independence by improving efficiency, diversifying supplies, and ramping up renewables. This process requires a mobilization at all levels – from supranational bodies down to households and individuals.
There are two important caveats to consider. First, the search for alternative suppliers of natural gas – critical as it is in the short term – must not lock us into a new long-term dependence that requires heavy investments in fossil-fuel infrastructure. That would be costly, catastrophic for the planet, and ultimately unnecessary, given the more climate-conscious options that are available.
Second, we must not trade one bottleneck for another by swapping our over-dependence on fossil fuels for over-dependency on raw materials needed for the green transition. These resources are heavily concentrated in just a handful of countries, not all of which hold the same values and interests as the EU. Strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy and resilience must remain a key objective of the transition.
Subscribe to Project Syndicate
Enjoy unlimited access to the ideas and opinions of the world’s leading thinkers, including long reads, book reviews, topical collections, short-form analysis and predictions, and exclusive interviews; every new issue of the PS Quarterly magazine (print and digital); the complete PS archive; and more. Subscribe now to PS Premium.
Europe cannot do this alone. Winning the battle against climate change and standing up to Russian aggression are global challenges that demand a global response. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has strengthened the strategic rationale for all countries to reduce their fossil-fuel imports and invest more in climate-friendly energy solutions.
That is why the EU is actively engaged in climate diplomacy. We want to encourage others to raise their climate ambitions, and we have committed considerable resources to working with partner countries so that they, too, can move to a resilient net-zero-emissions economy. Through the European Green Deal and the EU’s new Global Gateway initiative, EU institutions and member states are mobilizing up to €300 billion ($325 billion) of investment in green and digital infrastructure to address the climate, biodiversity, and energy crises.
Moreover, the EIB has pledged to support €1 trillion of investment in climate action and environmental sustainability by 2030. Through its new development arm, EIB Global, the bank is working with partners around the world to mobilize finance for energy efficiency, renewables, and electricity grid projects.
Working as part of the EU’s joint effort under Team Europe, the EIB’s support for a clean-energy future ranges from investing in solar power in Senegal to financing more energy-efficient kindergartens in Armenia. The bank has also helped forge a Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa; provided backing for the India-based International Solar Alliance, which supports solar power development across 105 tropical countries; and signed on to an integrated water management and flood prevention scheme in Argentina.
The EU stands ready to support the global community in ending its dependency on fossil fuels. Russia’s war on Ukraine is not a reason to delay investments in climate action. On the contrary, more green investment will give us more strategic autonomy. Decarbonization has become a geopolitical imperative. We call on our global partners in government and across international financial institutions to join us in accelerating finance for clean energy. By pursuing climate neutrality, we can also achieve energy security.