Beginning Monday, the clock starts ticking on Russian gas.
European Union member states have committed to reducing natural gas usage by 15 percent between Aug. 1, 2022, and Mar. 31, 2023. The plan, called Save Gas for a Safe Winter, is intended to reduce reliance on Russian fuel in case of a total shutoff but could have the added benefit of moving the bloc further along toward the goal of reducing its carbon footprint.
Russia’s war on Ukraine kicked off a global energy crisis that is perhaps nowhere more acutely felt than in the European Union. It relied on Russia for more than 40 percent of its total gas consumption, 27 percent of oil, and 46 percent of coal imports in 2021, according to the European Commission. According to a factsheet on Save Gas for a Safe Winter, some 12 member states have already begun suffering from a full or partial disruption of their gas supply. As of June, Russia was supplying the E.U. with less than 30 percent of the average supply it provided over the last five years.
The plan aims to achieve its 15 percent gas usage reduction by saving noncritical gas for electricity and heat, incentivizing industries to use less gas, reducing heating and cooling in buildings through public information campaigns, and providing guidance on which industries to prioritize in case of further cuts.
Cutbacks aren’t the only option for saving on gas usage. The plan also advocates for increasing subterranean gas storage; diversifying gas supplies by sourcing it from places like Norway, the UK, and North Africa; and replacing gas with cleaner, renewable energy.
Weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU began securing Europe’s energy systems through a number of measures including REPowerEU, announced in March. Among other things, REPowerEU pushes an accelerated rollout of renewables, increasing the 2030 target from 40 to 45 percent.
In a statement announcing the plan, the European Commission acknowledged that the political factors feeding the need to transition to renewables could have the added benefit of mitigating climate change. “There is a double urgency to transform Europe's energy system: ending the EU's dependence on Russian fossil fuels, which are used as an economic and political weapon and cost European taxpayers nearly €100 billion [$102.2 billion] per year, and tackling the climate crisis,” the Commission wrote.
Europeans have already begun experiencing the real-world impacts of policies like these. In cities across Europe, officials have begun incentivizing reduced energy consumption, dimming or cutting streetlights altogether after certain hours, subsidizing homes that replace fossil-fuel-reliant energy systems, and reducing temperatures in offices and swimming pools, according to The New York Times. Unknowns, like the coming winter weather or Russia’s odds of cutting gas ties, could make measures even tighter.