Europe Needs to Break its Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Europe Needs to Break its Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Interview with David C. Murphy – Executive Director of Greenpeace Czech Republic

PHOSPHATE-PRICE has spoken to David C. Murphy – currently an Executive Director of Greenpeace Czech Republic – who has a 20-year experience working in the non-profit sector in Central and Eastern Europe, with an expertise in civil sector development, human rights and the environment.
Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization whose goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on world-wide issues such as global warming, overfishing, deforestation, anti-nuclear issues, genetic engineering, and commercial whaling.  It uses strategies ranging from lobbying, research to direct action to achieve its goals.

PHOSPHATE-PRICE: The crisis in Ukraine has again brought up the issue of Europe’s energy independence on Russia. The problem is, however, not new. It seems that it waxes and wanes periodically depending on the current geopolitical development in the region. Last time it was during 2009 Ukraine gas crisis when a few EU Member States did not receive their supplies due to Kiev’s “gas troubleshooting” with Russia. Do you think that this time it will be different?

MURPHY: As part of Europe’s response to this crisis, EU heads of state have asked the European Commission to present a plan to reduce dependency on Russian energy at the next European Summit in June, so it looks like this time it will be different. The question is whether different will mean better? The renewed push for energy independence also presents a risk as countries in our region may go backwards, promoting dirty, domestic energy sources like coal here in the Czech Republic and nuclear and fracking in Poland.
This is a huge moment for Europe. If our political leaders make the right choices this summer, they could not only slash dependence on Russian gas and oil, but also stake out a clear, sustainable path for the continent into the next century and show real global leadership on climate change. In short, this is a moment that demands vision, not compromise.

PHOSPHATE-PRICE: The discourse on the problem of energy dependence does not include only the very question of decreasing the amount of natural gas bought from Russia, but it also likely encompasses other issues such as strengthening the position of green energy and renewable sources. Is it a good time now for organizations like Greenpeace to raise awareness on such issues?

MURPHY: We are constantly pushing for green energy and renewable sources, but also for robust energy savings and increased energy efficiency. The larger issue is energy dependency. Currently, Europe spends over €500bn on energy imports with the largest slice going to Russia. Simply finding new sources of fossil fuels and nuclear technology that may ease the problem in the short term, but eventual leads us to climate catastrophe, is clearly not the answer; not for us and certainly not for our children. We are saying clearly that it’s not enough to change the dealer; Europe needs to break its dependence on fossil fuels. This is a great opportunity not only for organizations like Greenpeace, but for all European citizens to speak up and demand sustainable, clean energy solutions.

PHOSPHATE-PRICE: What is, in your opinion, the most dangerous possible side effect, from the perspective of environmental and energy considerations, that could emerge from the Ukrainian conflict and the EU-Ukraine-Russia energy talks?

MURPHY: There is a paradox in what is happening in Eastern Europe. The more the conflict escalates, the clearer it becomes that the EU needs a radical shift in its energy policy. At the same time, any economic downturn or threats to the still fledgling economic recovery in the region caused by further escalation will have severely negative impacts on the civic sector and potentially even on small investors in renewable energy. The dirty energy industry is seizing the current energy debate to further its windfall profits and intensify its monopoly. This would be easier to achieve in a panicky environment in which NGO watch dog organizations could be starved of funding or organizations like Greenpeace offering alternative solutions are squeezed out of the debate by the furiously lobbying of Europe’s utilities to keep us hooked on fossil fuels and nuclear. A central part of our vision for a greener, more sustainable future is deeply rooted in empowering people and expanding democratic space in society and if these were suppressed, this would be the most dangerous possible side effect.