Climate and Energy

War in Ukraine and Europe’s Energy Conservation and Climate Policies

A big risk for Europe stems from its dependency on Russian natural gas and oil. However, even more important is the fact that it is EU money which pays for the gas and oil, which enables Russia´s militarisation and its belligerent behaviour. In this context, the current conflict constitutes an historic opportunity and an urgent motivation for a reduction of energy consumption and Greenhouse gas emissions in both the EU and Ukraine.

Europe at the Crossroads

In November 2013, the former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, under pressure from the Kremlin, refused to sign the EU Association agreement at the Vilnius summit. The people of Ukraine responded by filling the streets and squares of Ukrainian cities, the “euromaidans”, demanding a European future for their country. The regime responded with police brutality, but no pressure was able to break the citizens of Ukraine. When more than 100 Ukrainians were killed under Ukrainian and European flags, full scale revolution erupted: the corrupt and oppressive regime was overthrown and Yanukovych and his clan escaped to Russia.

Moscow´s response to revolution in Ukraine was to attempt to stir up counterrevolution – or anti-euromaidan –in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where the Russian speaking minority lives. When these efforts completely failed due to lack of popular support, Ukraine became the target of initially hidden and then later open military aggression. After the occupation of Ukrainian Crimea by “little green men” – proven without a slightest doubt to be Russian troops without military insignia – Russian secret police and later the carefully masked Russian army initiated war in the industrial region of Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

Today Ukraine is at war.  The true meaning of this war is an attempt, by foreign tanks, to stop the spread of the common market, the rule of law and respect for human rights promoted by the European Union and desired by large sections of the populations in Eastern European and Caucasus countries.

The fate of Ukraine may thus predetermine the fate of the European Union and the European dream just as events of 1937 – 1938 predetermined what followed after the failure of European democracies in Munich 1938.

We may see Russia’s war in Ukraine as an exceptional opportunity and motivation for a reduction of energy consumption and Greenhouse gas emissions in both the EU and Ukraine.

Europe – The Main Financier of Militaristic Power

One of the paradoxes of Europe´s excessive use of fossil fuels and large contribution to global CO2 and methane emissions relates to the origin of a large proportion of oil and natural gas burned in the EU. In 2013, 35% of all crude oil and 30% of all natural gas burned in EU countries came from Russia. In many EU member states the share of Russian oil and natural gas is 100%.

The EU´s dependency on Russian oil and natural gas thus has, in addition to the consequences of climate change, another important effect. Oil and gas account for 75% of Europe´s imports from Russia.  Europeans pay 150 billion Euros for them annually out of a total import of 213 billion. At the same time the EU´s total exports to Russia are only 123 billion, resulting in an almost 100 billion annual trade deficit.

The ability to strangle the flow of natural gas and set up its prices enables the Kremlin to exercise its power over a number of European countries, as was clearly demonstrated in the “gas crisis” of 2009 and repeatedly in case of Ukraine. More than 50% – some authors put the figure between 60 to 80% – of Russia’s state budget comes from the export of oil, gas and a few other mineral resources. The vast majority of this money comes from the EU. This massive flow of Euros to Russia enables extreme militarisation, which has proved to be a direct military threat to EU members (Baltic states in particular) and EU neighbours (Ukraine with occupied Crimea and Donbas region, Moldova with occupied Transdnistria, Georgia with occupied Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia).

The seriousness of the militarisation of Russia – financed largely by money paid by the EU for oil and natural gas – is shown by a number of indicators. The Global Peace Index published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace ranked Russia 152 out of 162 analysed countries, next to North Korea, in 2014. Random occurrence?  Not at all. Russia ranked 154 in 2013 and 152 in 2012. The Global Militarisation Index published annually by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion ranked Russia as the 3rd most militarised country in the world in 2012, 4th in 2011 and 2010. Never since the year 2000, has Russia dropped out of the top five most militarised countries of the world.

Since the occupation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine, Europe needs to approach the Russian situation in the terms of risk management.  A big risk for Europe stems from our dependency on Russian natural gas and oil. However, even more important is the fact that it is our money paid for the gas and oil, which enables Russia´s militarisation and its bully behaviour. With trade of 267.5 billion Euros in 2012, the EU is by a big margin Russia´s main trade partner, followed by China with 64.1 billion, Ukraine with 24.3 and the United States, Japan, Turkey and South Korea each with less than 20 billion Euros.

Ukraine as Europe’s Climate Policy Opportunity

We may see Russia’s war in Ukraine as an exceptional opportunity and motivation for a reduction of energy consumption and Greenhouse gas emissions in both the EU and Ukraine. Ukraine’s CO2 emissions per PPP dollar of GDP are very high – 0.9 (kg/1 USD) compared to 0.2 in Germany, France, the UK, Spain or Italy.  High energy intensity and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP can be partly attributed to the structure of Ukrainian economy with a strong heavy industries sector (43% of total energy consumption) as well as a harsher continental climate. However the major factor is extremely low energy efficiency and waste of energy. Communal use, and the tertiary and agriculture sectors consume 40% of total energy consumption, while only 11% is used by transport.

Contrary to the complicated situation in housing, the education sector may provide a much more straight-forward option for extensive energy conservation, with school facilities owned and managed by public bodies

First-hand observations point to the extremely dilapidated energy situation in the existing buildings of Ukraine, comparable to the situation in Poland or Czechoslovakia back in 1970s, if not earlier. Energy conservation and CO2 reduction potential in buildings is huge and can be achieved very fast and with much lower relative levels of investment than would be needed for Germany or Scandinavian countries. As the winter is approaching, the true challenge is how to mobilise this potential in an extremely short time.

Schools and Refuges – Two of Many Possibilities

Experience from countries with extensive central heating systems such as Slovakia or Czech Republic suggest that to implement energy conservation programs in the housing sector typically requires a very long time due to the complicated ownership situation in communal housing and complex legal and bureaucratic requirements for the reconstruction of existing buildings. Developing a large scale energy conservation program in Ukraine´s housing sector is absolutely necessary, but to implement it on a large scale will take many years. Rapid progress can be achieved in proper thermal insulation and refurbishing boilers, heating stations and central heat distribution, but decreasing loss of heat from existing buildings is much more challenging.

Contrary to the complicated situation in housing, the education sector may provide a much more straight-forward option for extensive energy conservation, with school facilities owned and managed by public bodies. Clear ownership, defined management responsibilities, as well as a high level of technical standardisation, make the school system suitable for rapid and mass-scale intervention which is needed in order to assist Ukraine to quickly decrease its gas consumption.

To focus on a massive assistance program – let us call it the Liberty Schools Initiative – on schools would also have an important symbolic value. It would send a simple message to Ukrainian people: “Your children and your country have a future”. To concentrate on schools is also politically non-controversial and the public will appreciate it: by bringing fast, highly visible benefits for millions of children, teachers and parents, a school energy efficiency program has strong potential to frame the new political leadership of Ukraine as true “doers” and thus strengthen popular support behind country´s leaders. This is fundamentally important to reduce the risk of the country slipping back to political quarrelling as happened after the 2004 “Orange revolution”.

Scaling up potential for such program is tremendous. There are around 15,500 preschool institutions in Ukraine with 1.2 million children and around 20,600 primary, middle and high schools with total enrolment of 4.5 million students and 522,000 teachers.  The omnipresence of schools in all rural and urban areas, and the very close contacts that exist between schools and the local population, create exceptionally good conditions for the spread of key ideas embodied in the design and purpose of the LSI: conservation of energy by using low energy and passive design, and affordable technology, in particular thick thermal insulation and quality windows.

This rapid and massive energy conservation program for Ukrainian schools can be implemented only by using large scale industrial production methods of modular school units assembled by specialised assembly teams on pre-existing school grounds (with electricity and other infrastructure already present) within extremely short time. An appropriate technology already used in Europe, albeit on a smaller scale, are container buildings. Industrially produced containers can be transported by trucks or trains and connected together into buildings of different sizes and shapes. Data from containers schools in Slovakia suggest their cost is approximately 25% of would be costs of standard brick-and-mortar schools of similar quality.

Europe must subordinate key EU funded investments and programs to a single strategic goal which is reducing the total amount of natural gas and oil imported to the continent, not only from Russia but from all sources.

There are of course many other ways in which properly insulated container buildings could be used to support at speed and scale a struggling Ukraine. Emergency housing for around 300,000 refuges from Crimea and Donbas facing the fast-approaching winter is another field where such a program could make big difference.

Energy Conservation in Europe Is by Far the Best Response to Militarism and Aggression

There is only one intelligent response by Europe to the new situation.  Contrary to popular rhetoric, it is not to increase imports of natural gas from the United States or discard European environmental legislation and start hectic shale gas exploration in the EU.  Europe must subordinate key EU funded investments and programs to a single strategic goal which is reducing the total amount of natural gas and oil imported to the continent, not only from Russia but from all sources.

It is absurd to build in Europe any other type of buildings than energy passive ones – i.e. almost without the need to be heated in winter or cooled in the summer. There is no justification for the claim that appropriate legislation should not be adopted immediately. We cannot wait until 2018 or 2020 – even yesterday was late.

Equally absurd is to drop billions of euros from Brussels´ coffers towards construction of more and more roads and motorways instead of investing heavily into energy efficient housing, modernisation of public transport and electrification of railways. Money paid for Russian oil to move our automobiles also move the Russian military. On top of that, a program to massively insulate and rebuild existing buildings in Europe to passive or close to passive standards would for the same amount of money create significantly more jobs, more diverse jobs and more sustainable jobs than road construction ever can.

Russian aggression in Ukraine, alongside well-documented Russian support for extreme right anti-EU political parties in many EU member states, gives European politicians an excellent opportunity and reason to end the careless “business as usual” approach to energy policy. If Brussels and EU member states fail to respond to this loud wake up call, it will not only be a failure of current political elites, but will also risk the failure of the whole European project of peace, security and prosperity for all.

The Danish foreign minister Martin Lidegaard got it right when he stated that reduction of fuel consumption and significant increase in the use of renewable energy is the most important and systemic response to Moscow aggression and militarism.  History will judge whether other politicians in Brussels and EU capitals were able to use current events as a historical opportunity to change current short-sighted policies, or whether a generation of current European leaders will stand side by side with Milo Minderbinder of Catch XXII on the list of those who, in the name of holy profits, financed the military build-up of their own adversaries and their own destruction.

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