War and energy problems push the climate crisis into the background in an endless vicious cycle

At the same time, Europe is more widely devouring huge amounts of liquefied natural gas – a harmful fossil fuel – imported from the United States and other allies to temper its dependence on Russian energy. Europe is also returning to coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.

All this while the northern hemisphere is going through a summer of extreme heat. More than 100 million Americans are on heat alert as a heat wave spreads further and further. They are forced to stay at home or seek air-conditioned places until the heat passes. Germany experienced its hottest day of the year. Greece is literally putting out the fires around its capital.

Countries committed to tackling climate change are being forced to push the issue into the background as Russia’s war exacerbates a global energy crisis and cost of living crisis.

And ironically, the climate crisis is making energy shortages worse in a vicious circle. The extreme heat is causing some power plants to flare up, forcing power outages even in homes that rely on air conditioning to maintain tolerable temperatures.

Almost everyone in the northern hemisphere talks about air conditioners. Those who have them increase their power. Many who do not think to buy them. This requires more energy, usually from burning fossil fuels, and so the cycle continues.

But there is a reality about the energy sources available here and now. Slow action on the green transition in the past means there simply isn’t enough renewable energy for a quick fix.

« We’re going to have to swallow some uncomfortable short-term options to get through this winter, » said Tara Connolly, anti-gas campaign manager at NGO Global Witness.

Europe’s climate paradox

In Europe, where scorching temperatures have broken records in the UK and left hundreds of millions of people suffocated on the continent, this week’s heatwave has exposed gaps in some countries’ preparedness for extreme weather.

« The current heatwave should spur more action, » said Lisa Fischer, program manager at London-based environmental think tank E3G. « It affects productivity, it affects the functions of the economy…this feedback loop has not been understood in the past. »

The effects of the climate crisis are visible almost everywhere we look: several days of unusually warm weather in northern Greenland have triggered rapid melting there, and globally, hot temperature records are surpassing cold temperature records. 10 to 1, according to US data. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But the war in Russia and the ensuing global energy crisis have nevertheless imposed a paradoxical approach on European leaders in recent weeks: as governments revert to dirtier fuels to overcome their immediate energy problems, they are also rushing to sources renewable energy sources to reduce their dependence on Russian gas and alleviate the climate crisis.

To reduce its dependence on Russian gas, the European Union unveiled an emergency rationing plan on Wednesday. The announced « Save Gas for a Safe Winter » plan sets a target for the 27 member states to reduce their gas demand by 15% between August and March next year. This reduction is based on the average gas consumption of the countries during the same months during the previous five years.

Among the measures proposed, the European Commission is encouraging industry to switch to alternative energy sources – including coal if necessary – and to introduce auction systems that compensate companies for reducing their gas consumption.

« We’re seeing an acceleration of clean energy…what used to be seen as climate action is now part of the energy security conversation, » Fischer said. “(And) it is remarkable that the European Green Deal has not been abandoned or abandoned” in the midst of this turbulent period, she added.

Connolly said it was « an absolute shame » that it took Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more intense impacts from the climate crisis and an energy poverty crisis all at the same time to bring the Europe to accelerate its green transition.

« The only good thing is that the energy transition in Europe will accelerate thanks to this, » she said.

However, the return to fossil fuels is worrying. Governments insist they are temporary, but they can be hard to trust.

Earlier this month, European lawmakers approved a measure to label natural gas as a « green » or « sustainable » energy source, sending a signal to investors to pump more money into fossil fuels. Connolly called the vote « damaging in terms of Europe’s reputation and Europe’s attempts to phase out gas ».

And as Europe increasingly imports liquefied natural gas (LNG) from places like the United States, it is becoming increasingly dependent on it as an energy source. The continent imports so much of the power source that it has to build new floating terminals just to receive it. She may wean herself off Russian gas for good reasons, but she’s not weaning off gas in general to fight climate change.

Europe plans to force countries to ration gas as Russia weaponizes energy
All of this comes amid rising coal production in China – which produced more coal than ever last year as its power plants struggled to keep up with electricity demand, undermining plans to reduction of carbon emissions. There too, 900 million people are experiencing a grueling heat wave that is expected to last for weeks.

Connolly said a temporary return to coal in this energy crisis was understandable.

« But what is the longest term? » she asked. Climate groups are urging European governments to prioritize sustainable investments now to establish a cleaner plan for the continent that does not depend on Russia.

“By next winter, we will have had three years to make great strides in developing our energy-saving technologies – insulting buildings and homes – and developing renewable energy as quickly as possible,” she said.

The world is watching Biden’s moves

As temperatures soared in the United States this week, President Biden spoke to the country on Wednesday about the urgency of the climate crisis and renewed discussion there around the declaration of a so-called climate emergency.

Biden outlined actions his office could take to tackle the climate crisis and announced billions of dollars in funding for communities facing extreme heat. But the US president said he was « opening the traps of the totality » of his authority to issue a national emergency that would unlock new federal resources and allow him to limit federal oil drilling.

Biden running out of time to lead on climate

The pace of Biden’s response has left climate experts and advocates disappointed.

He « took some useful but small-caliber climate action » on Wednesday, said climate activist Bill McKibben. wrote on Twitter. « The biggest test: will he declare a full climate emergency… The next few weeks will be crucial. »

And much of the world is watching Biden’s moves with interest. The United States is the world’s largest carbon emitter and bears the greatest historical responsibility for the climate crisis. Although Biden has pledged to halve US emissions by 2030, his climate agenda was torpedoed last week by a senator from his own party, Joe Manchin, a coal state representative who has resisted President’s climate goals.

“We need the United States to step up, not just for the climate issue, but because climate cooperation is one of the few areas of multilateral cooperation that still works and works well,” Fischer said. « It’s one of the few areas where we have China and others around the table and where we’re working with others, and that’s extremely important. »

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