Business, civil society urge EU to slash oil dependency

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Europe must reduce its oil demand by over half within the next forty years to tackle climate change and address growing difficulties in securing access to fossil fuels, an EU consultative body argued last week (9 January).

In an opinion addressed to MEPs ahead of their adoption of a report on long-term oil supply and demand trends, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) stated that the only way out of the climate crisis was to instigate a change “comparable in scale to a new industrial revolution,” steering the world economy from excessive dependence on fossil fuels towards alternative energy sources and increased efficiency. 

Using indigenous energy sources would also reduce Europe’s vulnerability to oil-price shocks and supply disturbances, the committee asserts. 

For such a transformation to occur, global oil demand growth must be brought to a standstill for several years, before declining steadily to at least 50% below current levels by the middle of the century, the EESC argues, calling on the EU to become a model in this regard (for more on oil production, see EURACTIV LinksDossier on ‘Peak Oil‘).

The committee suggests that this can be achieved by smart city planning to reduce travel, favouring cleaner transport, using renewable sources for heating and fitting coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage technologies.

“The European Union has made a good start on the measures needed within Europe with its climate change and energy package. These can and should be implemented swiftly and vigorously. But, even if that is achieved, the EESC believes that a further set of measures will be needed before we have a fully adequate and comprehensive strategy for Europe,” said Derek Osborn, EESC rapporteur on the opinion and a member of its section for transport, energy, infrastructure and the information society.

The climate change and energy package approved by European leaders and endorsed by MEPs in December 2008 was negotiated to combat climate change while reducing the EU’s dependency on imported fuels. The current gas crisis highlights the dangers of strong reliance on external energy sources, as many Eastern European countries have seen their gas supplies cut amidst a row over payments between Russia and Ukraine.

Consequently, Slovakia, which is one of the countries hit worst by the dispute and has seen 97% of its gas supplies cut off, decided to restart a nuclear reactor that had recently been shut down in compliance with EU accession criteria (EURACTIV 12/01/08). In Germany, politicians have also voiced their approval for the abandonment of nuclear phase-out plans.

But WWF, an environment group, nevertheless warned the EU not to treat the natural gas crisis as a “field day for perceived secure electricity fuels such as coal and nuclear”. It saw the situation as an opportunity to develop domestic clean energy sources such as offshore wind, solar power and clean biomass.

The environmental organisation urged the bloc to swiftly put in place legislation on energy efficiency for buildings and the promotion of renewable energies in the power sector.

“In the long term, with strong energy requirements for buildings we can reduce dependence on fossil fuels even more and also cut CO2 emissions by 460 million tons per year, which is about ten percent of the EU’s total climate pollution,” said Arianna Vitali, WWF’s policy officer for energy conservation in buildings.

The Parliament’s industry and energy (ITRE) committee is due to adopt a report on the long-term trends of oil supply and demand on 20 January.

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