‘To put it mildly, gas is over,’ said Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank in January. His institution will soon stop funding fossil-fuelled electricity generation, in accordance with its own climate roadmap. As the EU is expected to adopt a new carbon-reduction target of 55 per cent by 2030, shifting financial resources towards green energy is certainly a sound proposition.
But it ain’t that simple. Both the EU and the USA are pressing Germany to abandon the Nord Stream 2 project, a new pipeline to transport Russian natural gas through the Baltic. The pipeline is 94 per cent completed, but construction has stalled since Washington issued sanctions on Moscow. Now, the European Parliament has voted in favour of a non-binding resolution calling for a halt to the project, which is due to provide an economic windfall for Vladimir Putin. However, Nord Stream 2 supporters in Germany argue that such a move would only benefit the USA and its liquefied gas exports, which are more expensive and, since they are transported by ship, more polluting.
Germany is a reliable EU member and US ally, so the matter will eventually be sorted out, but it’s a dramatic reminder of the many geopolitical intricacies we can expect to see unfold as the world proceeds towards total decarbonisation – that is, over the next 30 years.
Since Winston Churchill converted the British Navy from locally sourced coal to imported oil, contributing to victory in the First World War, energy has become the very linchpin of geopolitics. Wars and treaties, secret agreements and betrayals, demagogic largesses and terrorist actions have marked much of the world’s recent history – all because of oil. A shrewd autocrat currently rules Russia; a mad dictator is subduing Venezuela; a Shia clergy is oppressing Iran; Nigeria is the most populous and dangerous country in Africa; and Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most dangerous regimes – all because of oil.
Now, let’s imagine how much the renewables revolution might change the whole scenario. What will happen when hydrocarbon-producing countries lose their main source of revenue? So far, energy resources have been a result of geography, unevenly distributed among nations. Wind and the sun’s rays are available everywhere, although they, too, are unevenly distributed in their own way.
The road to decarbonisation may eventually lead to a world with fewer conflicts over energy. Before then, however, we’re likely to be in for a very bumpy ride.