Time to End Fossil Winters
Followed by another summer marred by extreme weather events, winter sets in as the haunting shadow of the fossil fuel crisis looms large once again. The past few years have exposed Europe’s and the globe’s dangerous addiction to fossil fuels. A dependence that not only jeopardises Europe’s energy security and pushes many Europeans into energy poverty but also harms the climate and our future.
The State of Play
The fossil fuel crisis continues. Despite a notable shift towards renewables, fossil fuels continue to hold Europe in a tight grip. Investments in fossil gas infrastructure and imports persist, supported by ongoing subsidies from Member States.
The repercussions of the EU’s stubborn addiction to fossil fuels extend far beyond its borders. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe sought alternative energy sources, and in a panic shopping move, locked themselves into new gas and oil supply agreements with countries worldwide. Among these are regimes like Qatar and Azerbaijan, inadvertently bolstering governments with a history of human rights infringements and conflicts. Furthermore, hunger for LNG imports justified the expansion of fossil infrastructure in other parts of the world, also undermining the EU’s climate leadership. For instance, the US rapidly constructed LNG export terminals on its Gulf Coast, threatening communities, the coastal environment and climate targets. These agreements, some of them long-term, have only solidified Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.
While Europe started to diversify its energy resources and ramp up renewable energy deployment to end its dependence on Russian fuels and consequently reduced its reliance to an extent, the inconvenient truth is that the EU still ranks among one of the top five importers of Russian fossil fuels. In fact, Russia’s exports of LNG to the EU have increased since the invasion of Ukraine, with Russian LNG imports jumping by 40% this year, continuing to fuel the war in Ukraine.
Last year, Europe took many emergency measures to address the acute energy crisis, but overall, the EU’s response to the crisis has failed to shield all Europeans from fossil fuel price volatility. At the same time, governments allowed the main originators of the climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry, to hoover up obscene profits, while the costs of climate change-fuelled disasters soared and 42 million Europeans were pushed into energy poverty.
Although we should be more determined than ever to rapidly build a 21st-century energy system, we remain highly vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel prices. Several other factors including competition from China beyond EU external borders and extreme weather events could further exacerbate gas price hikes, leaving us exposed to significant risks.
This is a Fossil Winter
While cold, dark winter nights slip under doors across Europe, once again, through our energy bills, Europeans are paying the price for years of climate inaction. Fossil winters threaten livelihoods and businesses across Europe. No one should fear the unprecedented hardship that this winter will bring to tens of millions of people.
Temporary fixes won’t suffice. Without a transformative approach, we will continue to endure the consequences of fossil winters to come. Governments must go beyond short-term measures and instead redirect funds from crisis profiteers towards those in need, implementing long-term structural solutions that bring energy savings, social justice, energy security, and climate action.
Only a just energy transformation will save our future seasons. The path to a sustainable energy system of the future requires a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources. By scaling up renewables in combination with energy savings, phasing out fossil fuels, and limiting global temperature rise, we can create a resilient, equitable, and inclusive energy system that will protect future generations from the threats faced today.
A strong, flexible, more decentralised, digitalised, and fossil fuel-free energy system that helps maximise reliance on energy savings and renewables can finally put Europe and its people on the path to an energy-secure and safer future.
Action to be taken
Change is already underway – it just has to be faster and more impactful. Renewables are on the rise and the demand for fossil gas is declining, while coal has no future in sight.
- Fossil Fuel Phase Out
The global science community has stated time and time again that greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are the single largest threat to people and nature. Moreover, the past few years have reminded us how easily fossil fuels can be weaponised, undermining energy security and pushing millions of Europeans into energy poverty. In this context, expanding fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure is not only outdated but recklessly dangerous. Every country must have a plan not only to cease the expansion and use of fossil fuels but also for a rapid, just and equitable transition that phases out existing fossil-based infrastructure.
- Energy demand reduction
Last winter, high energy prices, energy demand reduction across all Member States and warm winters somewhat alleviated the impact of the crisis on people. This was fortunate. We need to push further to drastically reduce our energy consumption in the long term. In May, half of EU countries had no mandatory energy-savings measures in place for this winter. Energy demand reduction is the safest and most environmentally friendly way to combat fossil winters, which should be provided across all sectors whilst making sure energy savings benefit the most vulnerable. Here, Member States should help advance such energy savings measures, including energy sufficiency. The less energy we need and unnecessarily waste, the faster we can end our dependence on fossil fuels and move to a fully renewable energy system.
- Renovation of Homes – Energy Savings
Renovating our homes and buildings can significantly reduce Europe’s energy consumption and help us wean off fossil fuels. The EU must swiftly roll out targeted support measures, including social safeguards, financing and technical assistance, to support energy-poor and vulnerable households as a priority, and all households across the continent to participate in the Renovation Wave, helping to Build Better Lives.
- Renewable Energy
The previous year marked a significant leap forward in the race towards a fully renewable Europe of the future. Wind and solar, for the first time in history, outpaced fossil fuels in generating electricity across the EU to prove how far Europe has already come despite further advancements needed. The surge in renewable energy production helped mitigate the impact of the energy price crisis for numerous Europeans last winter. Sustaining this momentum and maximizing the benefits of solar and wind energy requires an accelerated deployment, and enhanced grids, with a steadfast commitment to prioritize local communities and safeguard biodiversity during this swift and equitable transition.
Across Europe, a growing number of communities are embracing renewable energy, showing how people can be placed at the forefront of the energy transition. This shift not only reduces our reliance on unpredictable fossil fuels, but also ensures significant cost savings, granting us autonomy over sustainable, affordable, and equitable energy generation and consumption.
This is how we make fossil winters a thing of the past. This is how we achieve climate neutrality.
A Just Transformation for the People across Europe
We hear the concerns of Europeans loud and clear. People are deeply worried about the climate crisis, the soaring costs and the fallout of fossil winters, and at the same time, feel incapacitated to act. They want and deserve a safe, secure, and sustainable future, free from climate disasters and the burden of high energy bills.
Taking climate action now is by far cheaper than the cost of inaction and delay, which will only exacerbate social inequalities. The EU will need substantial new resources to bridge the investment gap in climate action and ensure a just and equitable transformation of our economy. But people cannot be left to face this challenge on their own. The costs of the transition must not be borne by those people who already struggle to make ends meet. Instead, the EU must redistribute a portion of the profits reaped by fossil fuel based energy corporations and wealthy high-use individuals, so that the transition is fair and beneficial for everyone.
While significant progress in the energy transition has been made in the past year, this multifaceted problem is still with us. We will leave fossil winters behind with the determination to build an energy system of the future that harnesses the power of energy savings and renewables for the well-being of Europeans fully. The time is now for the whole of Europe, the EU Member States, and governments of the EU’s neighbours to listen to their citizens and acknowledge the link between anti-climate and anti-social policies. They must prioritise the well-being of people and the planet over the profits of fossil fuel companies and create a safe and secure future for its citizens. By taking resolute action and committing to renewable energy, fossil winters will be a thing of the past as we will pave the way for a safer and more sustainable future for all.
Changing into a lower gear is simply not an option: Governments must assume an ambitious and systemic approach, and step away from a reactive mode. Instead of panicking, they must go beyond words and redouble their efforts to deliver the socio-ecological transformation needed to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C in a just and fair way.
Policy-makers and governments across Europe must act now. They need to play their part in the global, just energy transition and together, tackle the impending climate crisis.
Written by Chiara Martinelli – Director, CAN Europe
Seden Anlar, Communication Coordinator, email@example.com