An energy crisis bound to happen

  
Disclaimer: all opinions in this column reflect the views of their authors’, not of EurActiv.com PLC.
Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam International's EU Advocacy Office [Oxfam]
Natalia Alonso, head of Oxfam International's EU Advocacy Office [Oxfam]

European leaders will discuss energy security, climate and energy priorities from now until 2030. How far European leaders decide to go has implications beyond Europe’s doorstep, Natalia Alonso writes.

Natalia Alonso is the Head of Oxfam’s EU Office.

Amid announcements on the EU’s most coveted jobs, European leaders will today discuss energy security in light of the political crisis with Russia, as well as climate and energy priorities from now until 2030. The discussions come none too soon, as commitments made on climate and energy will also serve as Europe’s offer at next year’s UN climate talks in Paris, where world leaders are due to agree on a global framework to curb the worst effects of climate change.

How far European leaders decide to go has implications beyond Europe’s doorstep. Climate change is already exacerbating hunger and poverty worldwide. For those on the front line, it’s a daily battle against unpredictable and severe weather. For Ugandan farmer Florence Madamu, it is this that hampers her ability to provide enough food for her community. “The sun is prolonged until the end of September - and whenever it rains, it rains so heavily it destroys all our crops in the fields. You can plant a whole acre or two and come out with nothing”, says Florence. 

The latest IPCC report confirms what many farmers like Florence have been warning for a long time: climate change is already impacting global crop yields, and will increase global food prices at a rate that threatens to push an extra 50 million people into hunger by 2050.

In Europe too, it is the poor who are the most vulnerable, yet are silenced in the debate. Low-income families living in Europe risk being squeezed between rising food prices, due to our reliance on imports from climate susceptible trading partners, and higher energy bills, thanks to the spiralling costs of our fossil fuel imports.

Already standing at a crippling one billion Euros a day, Europe’s fossil fuel import bill is expected to increase as energy sources become more volatile and unpredictable. While European leaders seem keen to agree an emergency plan to keep gas flowing this winter, including spending on new gas infrastructure, there is no corresponding emergency plan to reduce our energy demand in the first place – and there should be.

Investments to help households save energy, such as insulation or more efficient boilers, would bring immediate relief to the ‘fuel poor’, especially if targeted at the 50 million families across Europe who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes. Though not many disagree with the benefits that energy savings bring, investments at the scale required will not just happen. A binding target to reduce our energy demand by 40% by 2030 would then save the average household more than €300 on their annual energy bill. This would be a huge step towards solving energy poverty while boosting jobs and reducing our gas bill to Russia at the same time.

Measures to save energy will also cut emissions and help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Linking the plights of farmers like Florence, low-income households in Europe, and the energy security crisis should be a no-brainer. It’s not often that leaders are faced with such easy decisions.

As European leaders invest valuable time and political capital into their preferred nominations, they should not miss the bigger picture. With an energy crisis burgeoning on their borders and thousands of European citizens at risk of having to make the demoralizing decision between food or fuel, it is vital – now more than ever – that governments join the dots. 

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