Putin’s chokehold on our energy supplies shows why Wales needs to do more and faster to get to net-zero
Llŷr Gruffydd, MS, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee
We have all been shocked and saddened by the terrible scenes of pain and suffering witnessed in Ukraine. While there remains considerable uncertainty about how the war will play out in the weeks and months ahead, we know that it has already had a devastating impact on the people of Ukraine, and we all stand with them in solidarity during their hour of need.
Closer to home, we’re also starting to get a sense of the wider impacts of the war – particularly Russia’s hold over oil and gas supplies, and what this means for energy security here. We’re lucky in Wales not to be as dependent on Russian supplies as some other countries. But frankly, Russia’s chokehold on energy has plagued the whole of Europe for decades, whilst governments have been too apathetic to confront the issue.
Some are now saying we must invest more in fossil fuels as a means of securing domestic energy supplies. Fracking and expansion of oil and gas production in the North Sea have both been suggested by the usual suspects. But surely when you’re in a hole, you stop digging. We need to be freeing ourselves from the damaging shackles of oil and gas rather than building our energy future on yesterday’s answers.
Rewind to the early days of covid and we all remember how oil prices collapsed to record lows. Producers were paying buyers to take oil off their hands with oil futures prices in negative territory.
Yet just two years later families in Wales are now facing the most severe hike in energy prices in recent memory. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said UK households face the biggest drop in living standards since records began in the 1950s.
Despite the twin economic and security crises, we also have to remember the biggest threat of all – the global threat of climate change. António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations warned recently that global climate targets may become unreachable if countries respond to the war in Ukraine by increasing their use of fossil fuels. We cannot let this happen.
All of this demonstrates how fossil fuel doesn’t just fuel homes and businesses, it also fuels economic instability, geopolitical oppression and climate catastrophe.
Three compelling reasons to make a decisive change in energy direction, and we need to do two things as a matter of urgency.
How we can help
First, we need to ramp up renewable energy developments.
We need to make the most of our natural resources on land and off shore. Wales has over 2,000km of coastline, which provides huge marine energy opportunities, with generating capacity significant enough to help Wales reach its decarbonisation targets.
Our ambition should be for all of our electricity to be generated from renewables and for Wales to be a net exporter of electricity.
Second, we need to ensure that Welsh households have support to get through the current energy-price crisis.
We need to see as much financial help as possible from the UK and Welsh Governments for the most vulnerable. We haven’t seen near enough support yet and the Chancellor’s recent mini-budget certainly didn’t do enough to help those most in need.
We also need to consider how we can all reduce our energy consumption.
Wales’ housing stock is among the oldest in Europe and is responsible for 10% of Welsh carbon emissions. Our inefficient, draughty homes mean that they require more energy to heat and keep warm. And that makes them particularly expensive at the moment.
I’d like to see urgent progress on the decarbonisation of Welsh housing, starting with the most vulnerable. We need to see large-scale programmes to deliver home insulation and a scaling up of advice and information services so that people have the tools to make the decisions that can reduce their consumption and costs. All of this must be in place by next winter when the weather turns colder and people start to feel the effects of another rise in the energy price cap.
We can also try to use more public transport. The less use we make of our cars the less dependent we all become on oil. Putin’s war is bankrolled by the $1bn a day he makes from selling oil and gas to Europe.
So if you want to help Ukraine – take the train!
The best response to the energy crisis and Putin’s threat to our energy security is obvious. Clean, renewable energy is the solution, not more fossil fuels. Modernising our homes so that we consume less energy is what is needed. This will help us face these immediate challenges and keep us on a path to net-zero.
We have already started on this journey. Now is not the time to take a step backwards. We need to do more and do it faster.
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