It took a war criminal to speed up Europe’s green revolution.
By invading Ukraine and manipulating energy supplies to undermine European support for Kyiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved something generations of green campaigners could not — clean energy is now a fundamental matter of European security.
The political response from the EU was swift: Within weeks of the February 24 invasion, a plan was sketched out aimed at unhooking the Continent’s energy ties from Moscow. It leaned on three pillars: cutting oil, gas and coal supplies from Russia; getting gas and other fossil fuels from elsewhere; and massively speeding up the roll out of renewable power and energy saving measures.
“Renewables give us the freedom to choose an energy source that is clean, cheap, reliable, and ours,” EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans said less than two weeks after Putin’s tanks rolled in.
Seven months on, a POLITICO survey of data on clean energy, energy savings and policies shows that the first signs of that green surge are appearing. Analysts are in little doubt that the change is structural, permanent and historic.
“We will look back at this situation in 10 years time and see, OK, that was the moment where we really got serious about the green transition and we really had the big green acceleration,” said Simone Tagliapietra, a research fellow at the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel.
Putin’s miscalculations on the battlefield have been well documented. But he also mistimed his energy war. He attacked Europe’s energy system just as an array of cheap and reliable alternatives became realistic. That’s not only solar and wind, which now generate power at a fraction of the cost of gas; products that even five years ago had barely entered the market, such as heat pumps, are now mature.
Putin also invaded Ukraine after the EU had spent two years laying the foundations of its Green Deal program for zeroing out emissions by 2050. That meant the policy machinery for a total remake of the European energy economy was already moving. All it needed was a nudge.
The green acceleration doesn’t mean Europeans will avoid a succession of brutally cold and expensive winters. This crisis also means that governments across the bloc have been preoccupied with short-term measures to stave off blackouts, rather than doing their utmost to aid the longer-term energy shift.
This has broadened the political coalition for green energy. Politicians who considered the safety of the climate a softer imperative than the economy or military can now embrace a heat pump as if it were a howitzer. In the days after the invasion, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner — a free market liberal who is no great friend of the climate agenda — declared renewable energy to be “the energy of freedom.”
While Ukrainians are the primary victims of the war, Europeans have been hit hard by Putin’s weaponization of energy. But the consequences mean an EU that becomes greener, faster, than before Russian troops marched across the Ukrainian border. That impact will be more than a footnote in the history of the war.
What to look out for this year? Will Europe’s leaders do more to drive the acceleration already underway?
What’s their superpower? Don’t mention “superpower” around him, it’s a sore point. Putin stands as a monument to the epic effect of unintended consequences.
Influence score: 19/30