the vertigo of the European Union faces the challenge of decency

Europe must maintain an energy diet. Largely denied access to Russia’s gas tap due to its opposition to the invasion of Ukraine, the European Union must reduce energy demand now to build up gas stocks. , essential to deal with winter. This challenge is on the menu of the unique meeting of European Energy Ministers, Tuesday 26 July. A week earlier, Brussels presented an emergency plan, which counted on a target of 15% reduction in energy consumption next spring.

By turning the once abundant and cheap energy into a rare and expensive commodity, the Ukrainian crisis succeeded where the fight against climate change has often failed: it launched a European dynamic of energy sobriety, which so. “an approach to the moderation of services provided by energy consumption as opposed to excessive consumption”, according to the definition of the NégaWatt association. A cultural change within the Twenty-Seventh that is not limited to the plan presented by the Commission, but which, everywhere, is in its infancy.

In its sobriety aspect, the plan prepared by the European Commission proposes to limit heating and air conditioning in public and commercial buildings, and to communicate more widely the right actions for the general public. In these points, some countries, like Italy, are in the lead. Under the policy renamed “Operation thermostat” by the media, since May 1, schools and public buildings can only use air conditioning when the temperature reaches 27°C in summer – against 26°C previously – and only for heating when the mercury drops below. 19°, under penalty of fine from 500 to 3,000 euros.

Spain took similar measures at the end of May, as part of a larger one “energy efficiency plan” – without any introduction of restrictions – which invites employees of the state civil service to telecommute more, to ride public transport and the bicycle or even to turn off the lights earlier in the administrations. The recommendations that will be delivered to all households, the government promises, are working “a decalogue” promoting eco-gestures, according to 20 minutes (link in Spanish).

For Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, specialist in European energy policy the Jacques-Delors Institute, it is too early to judge the effectiveness of these initiatives. “All governments are doing the same thing, and continue to be in denialhe believed. The only exception is Germany, which has barely begun to do anything relatively serious. But it didn’t start until June 10.” Across the Rhine, the government launched an extensive communication campaign called “80 million together to save energy” (link in German)as the number of inhabitants of the country.

“Anyone who saves energy can help Germany become less dependent on Russian imports and contribute to climate change.”

Robert Habeck, German Minister of Energy and Climate

June 10, 2022

In France too, that is clear “silence” no longer a dirty word. During the traditional and solemn interview on July 14, Emmanuel Macron announced “an energy efficiency plan” which will be revealed at the end of September. “orn prepare a plan to put themselves in a position to consume less”, he announced. “We will try to pay attention to the collective, in the night of the lights if it is useless, we will make a plan for the public administrations, we will make a stability plan where we will ask all our compatriots who commit (. ..)”, he detailed.

New words and commitments that describe the failure of the current sobriety measures: the extinction of lights in shops at 1 am at the latest or an hour after the cessation of activity can now be seen in a text implemented in 2018, while the temperature regulation of buildings is already governed by a 2007 decree or an article of the Energy Code.

During the oil embargo decided by OPEC in 1973, no one used the term sobriety, recalls Thomas Pellerin-Carlin. However, many countries have implemented “Multiple energy recovery campaigns” : in France, in addition to the famous campaign ‘”in France, we don’t have oil but we have ideas”, structural steps emerge, such as “Important speed limits on roads or the implementation of the first standards of energy efficiency for new buildings, of which our current standards are distant successors”, promotes the expert. It was also during this time that a major cycling plan was born in the Netherlands that had a lasting impact on the Dutch’s relationship with mobility, he added.

Recently, after the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s nuclear abandonment was accompanied by “Setsuden”, “a major energy and energy saving campaign which, supported by example of the Prime Minister of the time, led to a general mobilization of the Japanese population”. The country thus managed to reduce its consumption by 20%, continued Thomas Pellerin-Carlin. “It’s not a measure, it’s a collection of steps” which keeps Japan’s industry from collapsing and electricity prices remain stable “long without being too much”.

In comparison, the recommendations and measures taken by the EU countries in the light of this new crisis prove a limited motivation for deep changes. Ironically, while the fight for climate is rightly calling for more ideas and less fossil fuels, says Briton Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Changequoted by Politico: “Not one G20 leader is talking about this crisis as an opportunity”said this geopolitics expert. “If what matters to you is the transfer of energy”this situation “a gift”.

Ironically, this energy crisis has pushed the States to rest on two feet facing opposite directions: the silence necessary to combat climate change, and an emergency separation of the energy source that requires more use more pollution. “Priority should be given to renewables, but switching to coal, oil or nuclear may be necessary on a temporary basis,” thus recognized the European Commission on 20 July.

Many countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Spain and France, have announced in recent months the possibility of making exceptional use of their coal-fired power stations, delaying their closure or increasing the their production, to pay for the gas cut in Russia. Anxious to avoid a surge in prices, Westerners are looking at American shale gas, as well as gas and oil from the Gulf countries: on July 18, Emmanuel Macron, for example, ended a bag energy agreement with the President of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed ben Zayed, guest of the Elysée. An agreement that provided for an increase in the country’s oil production. And the proof that, if the EU intends to fight to free itself from dependence on Russian energy, it is now paying the price for its difficulty in freeing itself from dependence on fossil fuels.

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