Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action: Breaking Europe’s Imported Fossil Fuels Addiction
Europe is by far the largest importer of fossil fuel in the world. Recent developments in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq highlight once again how vulnerable our economy is to price spikes, external energy shocks and other regimes’ wishes.
Like a patient hoping to get better, the drip-feed of imported fossil fuels is keeping the European economy alive, but isn’t providing the remedy to spur new growth.
Just take our energy bill as an example. For years, imports of fossil fuels have weighed-in negatively on the European balance of trade. Today, Europe imports more than two thirds of all the gas and almost all the oil it consumes. And it pays more than EUR1 billion per day for its imported fossil fuels, which represent more than a fifth of total EU imports.
Energy dependency costs, that much is clear: But how about the political costs? Just an example: Six EU countries depend on Russia as the single external supplier for their entire gas imports and three of them use natural gas for more than a quarter of their total energy needs.
Wouldn’t it be wise to break this dependency by saving and producing energy here in Europe? The foreign providers may freeze oil and gas supplies, but they can’t freeze our sun or our wind. They can’t charge us for the energy we don’t consume.
“Like a patient hoping to get better, the drip-feed of imported fossil fuels is keeping the European economy alive, but isn’t providing the remedy to spur new growth.”
Our path to real energy security begins at home. We can always dig more coal, some would argue. Would that be the solution? Obviously not: Coal is not only the top contributor to climate change, but it is also the cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. It is therefore against our climate policies and targets.
Energy security and climate action go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. That’s why renewables and energy efficiency must be the two key ingredients: they’re both good for the climate and our energy independence.
The good news is that Europe is already saving EUR30bn annually by replacing imported fossil fuels with locally produced renewable energy. In other words, we invest the money here in Europe instead of sending it to Putin’s Russia and other fossil fuel providers outside Europe.
By 2050, the EU could halve its imports of oil and gas – representing a saving of 3% of today’s GDP. Much of the required additional investment expenditure can be recovered from what we save on energy costs. Money that now flows abroad can be invested in our domestic manufacturing industries and services instead.
So for Europe, energy security should not only be about the diversification of gas supply away from Russia. We must build an economy that is less dependent on imported energy through increased efficiency and greater reliance on domestically produced clean energy. We must also complete the internal energy market, improve the energy infrastructure and get better at exploiting our own energy resources.
All over the world countries and companies are turning to climate action for their growth strategies. And what countries have committed to internationally is driven to a significant extent by domestic agendas to increase energy security and competitiveness in key growth sectors.
In January, the European Commission outlined its proposals for climate and energy policies up to 2030. These include a binding emissions reduction target of 40% from 1990 levels and an EU-wide binding target of at least 27% of energy coming from renewable sources. And on energy efficiency, doing more is the least we can do, and therefore more energy saving proposals will come next month. EU leaders have pledged to take a decision on the whole package no later than October.
Earlier this month, the US announced draft rules to curb power-plants emissions. This is the strongest action ever taken by the US government to fight climate change and shows that the United States is taking climate change seriously. Also during my recent visit to China, it was clear to me that things are moving in the right direction. China is fast turning climate change into an opportunity for growth and jobs in rapidly innovating economic sectors. We now need to see these domestic actions translated into an ambitious international commitment.
It’s all about priorities. The way to greater energy independence goes through ambitious climate policies. The European Commission paved the way with the 2030 climate and energy package. By taking bold action on climate change, EU leaders will be preserving Europe’s energy security and boosting a sustainable economic recovery. i
About the Author
Connie Hedegaard is the European Commission’s fist Climate Action Commissioner. She started her political career in 1984 as a Member of Parliament in Denmark for the Conservative Peoples Party. Before joining the European Commission, she has been Minister for Environment (2004-2007), Minister for Nordic Cooperation (2005-2007), and Minister for Climate & Energy (2007-2009).
From 1990 to 2004, Ms Hedegaard worked as a journalist for several Danish media. From 1998 to 2004, she anchored the evening news magazine “Deadline”, part of the Danish Broadcasting Cooperation, DR. From 1994-98 she was head of DR’s Radio Newsroom. Ms Hedegaard has been a member and chairman of several Boards and Associations within fields like democratisation, journalism and international affairs. She received her Master’s degree in Literature and History from University of Copenhagen.
About the European Commission
The European Commission is the EU’s executive body and represents the interests of Europe as a whole (as opposed to the interests of individual countries).