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Severing energy ties to Russia and investing in a more peaceful and sustainable world 

Oil rig in Oklahoma
AP/Sue Ogrocki, file

President Biden meets Thursday with his NATO and European Union counterparts in Brussels for emergency summitry meant to strengthen the allies’ collective response to Russia’s savage invasion of Ukraine. 

Topping the agenda will be shoring up NATO defenses, supplying additional arms to Ukraine and increasing emergency relief to address the humanitarian crisis Moscow has inflicted on the Ukrainian people and the region more broadly. 

Biden must also make clear that the United States will stand with its allies in their urgent mission to break free from the Russian gas, oil and coal exports that feed the Kremlin’s war machine. 

One of the best ways to counter a belligerent petro state, after all, is to stop buying its fuel. That’s what the European Union is committed to doing. It will require a dramatic transformation in how energy is produced and consumed in EU nations. The United States, which ended its own Russian oil imports, must help. 

Immediately, that means assisting Europe in diversifying its energy imports as a cushion against the made-in-Moscow price and supply shocks. 

At the heart of the allies’ collective response, though, must be a commitment to speed the shift, on both sides of the Atlantic, to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future, and away from the fossil fuels that are driving the global climate crisis and padding the Russian war chest. 

That’s every bit as urgent a strategic imperative as it is an environmental necessity. Here’s why – and what we must do about it. 

Russia gets 36 percent of its federal budget from sales of gas, oil and coal. Last year, the 27-nation European Union bought nearly $110 billion worth of those fuels from Russia – about a fifth of all Russian exports, energy and other.  

Buying energy from Russia, for better or worse, was seen as a way to help knit a cooperative economic relationship between Europe and its former Cold War foe. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine abruptly changed that calculus, as Russia funded its ghastly attack in part with fossil fuel earnings and weaponized its energy exports to try to frighten Europe from rallying around an effective response. 

Earlier this month, the European Union answered, vowing to sever its reliance on Russian energy by 2027, at the latest.  

It’s a bold and essential move. 

The European Union relies on Russia for about 40 percent of its natural gas, a quarter of its oil and nearly half of its coal. Breaking those ties will take concerted action. Fortunately, much of Europe is already moving in the right direction. 

To confront the climate crisis, the European Union has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 55 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2030. That requires reducing carbon pollution by cutting the use of gas, coal and oil, including fossil fuels coming from Russia. In May, EU nations will deliver detailed plans to rapidly accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to more sustainable options. 

That starts with turbo-charging investments in efficiency, to cut energy use in workplaces and homes.  

The United States can help, with incentives to boost U.S. production and export of, for example, high-efficiency heat pumps to replace gas-fired boilers; caulk, tape and stripping to seal windows and doors; and insulation – suddenly hard to come by in Europe due to pandemic-related supply chain breakdowns. 

Efficiency gains now can cut energy demand ahead of next winter, when cold weather will drive up gas use. 

The United States can further help by increasing domestic production and export of equipment Europe needs to increase wind and solar energy and modernize its power grid and storage systems. Boosting U.S. research and development of high performance batteries, for instance, can further help Europe reduce its fossil fuel use and speed its shift to electric cars. 

This aligns with U.S. climate and energy security goals.  

Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50-52 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030, as the climate crisis demands. 

That will require the kinds of clean energy investments Europe is accelerating, exactly as contained in the $550-billion clean energy and climate package now before the U.S. Senate. The Senate should enact it immediately. 

That will create jobs, lower energy costs and send a powerful signal to investors, manufacturers and others about the kind of energy future the United States and its European allies are building. 

It will send a powerful message, too, to Moscow: the United States and Europe are working together to break our dependence on the fossil fuels that help fund Russian aggression. 

It’s time to stop subsidizing petro predators and start investing in a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. That should be part of Biden’s message this week in Brussels. 

Jake Schmidt is senior director for international climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group with more than 3 million supporters nationwide.

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