The geopolitical war over Russian gas has reached a new height. On Monday, state-owned Gazprom said it would curtail its deliveries to Europe. And Tuesday, European Union members agreed to use less methane gas in the coming months.
The Russian war against Ukraine has upended gas prices around the world, but the pressure has been no more acute than in Europe. EU leaders have mulled a plan to cut dependence on Russian gas for months or ban its import entirely. They landed on a 2027 phase-out, but with gas proving to be a major geopolitical weapon for Russia, that timeline may speed up.
The bloc agreed to voluntary cuts to gas demand of up to 15% for the winter, when demand rises for keeping homes warm. If there's a "substantial risk" of a shortage, that could trigger cuts sooner. There are a few exemptions for cutting demand, which were pushed by countries that do not heavily rely on Russian methane gas such as Spain, Portugal and France. The move comes as Gazprom said it would cut the flow of gas through the Nord Stream pipeline to about 20% due to what it claimed was a technical problem. (Germany, which is a major recipient of gas from the pipeline, said its analysis showed "there is no technical reason for a reduction.")
The demand reductions will focus on the electricity sector and getting industries heavily reliant on gas to switch to alternative fuels rather than cutting off supplies to homes and other critical services like hospitals. That said, the bloc agreed to improve heating and cooling efficiency so there's less need for methane gas in the first place. There are a number of other efficiency measures outlined in an International Energy Agency report released earlier this year that could further reduce demand, including letting people work from home and an all-out effort to install tech like heat pumps that heat and cool using electricity rather than methane gas.
The decision to cut the use of gas comes after Europe experienced a blistering heat wave. Many of the solutions that would cut dependence on gas could also pay dividends as the climate continues to heat up. Heat pumps, for example, can be much more efficient than window air conditioning units. Improving insulation and using building materials like concrete that's carbon-negative can keep homes and offices cool in summer and warm in winter as well, further reducing energy demands.
Turning one of the biggest economies on Earth on a dime to cut reliance on the fossil fuels that have powered it for more than a century is no small task, of course. But with both the looming gas shortage in the coming months and what the climate crisis holds in the present and coming decades, there's never been a better time for countries to start that pivot.