February 3, 2011
By Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth Europe
This Friday European heads of state are gathering in Brussels for a special energy summit. Security of energy imports are high on the agenda – and rightly so. The EU is one of the most energy dependent regions of the world, importing close to 60% of its gas, over 80% of its oil and 97% of its uranium. This comes with a heavy burden: import dependency on such a scale means dealing with political situations over which Brussels and the member states have little or no control. Supplies can be suddenly redirected or even switched off. Europe learnt this to its expense in 2009, when gas supplies from Russia were shut down in mid-winter.
The question is “How do we deal with such energy insecurity?” Normally, the answer would be to buy from more dependable producers. But, the fact is that building new pipelines to bypass Russia and scrambling for alternate suppliers simply locks Europe into ongoing fossil fuel dependence. And consider that this is at a time when even major oil companies are admitting that stocks are running out.
This means that rather than planning new pipelines, the EU should solve its import dependency issues by using less energy. After all, the cheapest and most secure energy is that which a country doesn’t need to use. Cutting energy use means opting out of the no-win game of competing for dwindling resources in an ever tougher market. In a nutshell, reducing energy use is the solution to Europe’s energy security problems.
The problem is that member states have so far been reluctant to sign up to stronger energy savings legislation. Europe has a 2020 energy savings target – to bring energy use back down to 1990 levels – but it isn’t mandatory, and member states have largely ignored it. Yet meeting the savings target would reduce Europe’s fuel import bill by at least €700 for each European citizen. It would also save the equivalent of 15 Nabucco gas pipelines, Europe’s bogged down project to bypass Russia by importing gas from the Caspian Sea.
The truth is that European heads of state don’t have a choice. Today’s energy system simply isn’t sustainable. Global fossil fuel use rose 20% in the past 10 years. Fossil fuels and nuclear make up 92% of Europe’s energy consumption. But, at the same time, the International Energy Agency has set a date on its estimate for Peak Oil. Coincidentally enough, it is the same year as the EU’s energy savings target: 2020. So when EU leaders meet to discuss energy imports and security of supply tomorrow, they need to focus on the real issue: setting a legally binding target to drive down energy consumption – and energy bills.Blogactiv Team