At their first meeting in four years, officials of the U.S.-European Union Energy Council confronted an urgent, short-term priority – bolstering natural gas supplies amid a Russian threat to invade Ukraine – and a longer-term concern: mitigating climate change.
"We're coordinating with our allies and partners, with the energy sector stakeholders, including on how best to share energy reserves in the event that Russia turns off the spigot or initiates a conflict that disrupts the flow of gas through Ukraine," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken following Monday’s meeting in Washington.
Moscow has threatened to halt the flow of gas to Europe if economic sanctions are imposed as a result of any further Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“This crisis has been pushing trans-Atlantic unity,” according to Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
“In the medium term, there is the climate neutrality,” explained Borrell, who is also the vice president of the European Commission. “In the short term, it’s security of supplies of gas. Both things go together.”
Europe is likely to rely more on the United States for its gas supplies as a result of the crisis. President Joe Biden has pledged to help Europe find additional liquified natural gas from sources in the United States and other countries if Russia-Ukraine tensions cause disruptions.
“We think we can make up a significant portion of it that would be lost,” Biden said at a White House news conference alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday afternoon.
That is seen by some environmentalists as counter-productive to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, something the United States and the European Union have pledged to work together to accomplish.
European officials “are not doing everything they need to be to get their addiction to gas ramped down as fast as possible. They're really convinced that they need gas, and they see the U.S. as a supplier for that,” Aki Kachi, senior policy analyst at NewClimate Institute in Germany, told VOA News. “Generally, in both the EU and the U.S., there's a lack of understanding about the climate impacts of gas.”
“Germany has decided to phase out the use of oil and gas very soon and by 2045 Germany will have a carbon-neutral economy as one of the strongest economies of the world,” Scholz told reporters at the White House. “It’ll probably be the biggest industrial modernization project in Germany in 100 years.”
The trans-Atlantic partnership has pledged to increase collaboration on reducing emissions from fossil fuels and expanding use of energy from the sun, wind, batteries and hydrogen.
“As we face geopolitical tensions and the challenge of climate change, we need more, not less, trans-Atlantic cooperation,” Kadri Simson, the European Commission’s energy commissioner, said at the meeting’s opening.
At the start of Monday’s discussion, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the goals set out in Washington and Brussels have significant geo-political ramifications at a time when energy prices have “gone through the roof” on both sides of the Atlantic amid the threats from Russia.
“This is not just an energy and climate issue,” Granholm told the meeting. “It also is potentially the greatest peace plan that ever existed, to be able to build out energy independence from clean energy.”
Together, the economies of the U.S. and the EU represent about 45% of the world’s economic output, and an even smaller percentage of global carbon dioxide emissions. That means for the world to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate change, other major emitters will need to make good on their ambitious pledges.
“If only the EU and the U.S. are taking action, it wouldn't be enough,” Kachi noted. “But it’s not really the case because China and India and other countries are also major investors in renewables.”