imports of Russian fossil fuels Fueling WAR in UKRAINE
European imports of Russian fossil fuels are a major source of funding for Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Russian government derives almost half of its revenue from the oil and gas sector and according to a former chief economic adviser to Vladimir Putin, if Western countries ceased purchasing oil and gas from Russia, the war in Ukraine would end “probably within a month or two”. Meanwhile, the measures which the EU and its Member States have taken so far to restrict imports of Russian oil and gas have had no effect on Russia’s ability to continue its war. In fact, according to one report, the recent increase in energy prices “more than offsets the reduction in volumes” of imports.
The EU is not doing enough to reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Much more immediate and deeper reductions in imports are needed. And the only way to achieve this is by adopting what the International Energy Agency calls “demand restraint” measures – for example, banning the use of private jets to reduce oil demand – something which the EU has failed to consider.
To make matters worse, some of the steps the EU has taken to reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels will worsen the climate crisis. In particular, the European Commission has proposed building more fossil fuel infrastructure to import gas from other countries like the U.S., despite studies showing that this is not necessary. Building new infrastructure is the very thing the UN Secretary General described as “moral and economic madness” following the publication of the latest IPCC report. Simply put, the EU’s inadequate efforts to address the Ukrainian crisis threaten to worsen the climate crisis.
FUNDING PUTIN'S WAR
The billions paid by Europe for Russian fossil fuels are a crucial source of funding for Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The EU has not even assessed, let alone adopted, all the measures available to rapidly reduce its reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Furthermore, its efforts to substitute supply of Russian fossil fuels with other sources will worsen the climate crisis: it plans to construct new fossil fuel infrastructure contrary to the latest climate science and to import gas from the U.S. where leaks of methane (a highly potent greenhouse gas) in the extraction process are widespread.
Together with four other complainants, we have filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman (25/5/22). The complaint contends that the European Commission is obliged to conduct various human rights and climate change impact assessments related to imports of Russian fossil fuels and the measures available to reduce them.
On 25 May 2022, GLAN filed a complaint with the EU Ombudsman alleging that the European Commission has engaged in maladministration its approach to addressing EU imports of Russian fossil fuels following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. GLAN submitted the complaint with four other co-complainants: Svitlana Romanko, Ukrainian environmental lawyer and co-founder of the Stand With Ukraine campaign to end imports of Russian fossil fuels, the online campaigning community Avaaz, Notre Affairs à Tous, the organisation behind the French climate “case of the century”, and the German environmental action organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe.
The EU Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, is responsible for ensuring that EU institutions follow the achieve the highest standard of administrative practices possible. She has previously stated in a case concerning the human rights impacts of the EU’s trade relations with other countries that “where fundamental rights are not respected, there cannot be good administration”. For this reason, she has held that the European Commission is under an obligation to conduct human rights and environmental impacts assessments to ensure that trade and other measures it adopts do not contribute to harms to human rights.
This complaint alleges that the EU has failed to conduct several key assessments of relevance to the measures the EU adopts in relation to Russian fossil fuel imports. These assessments relate to the human rights impacts both of the war in Ukraine and of the climate crisis. In relation to the human rights impacts of the war in Ukraine, the complaint alleges that the Commission must assess (a) the precise impact of European payments for Russian fossil fuels on Russia’s ability to pursue its war of aggression in Ukraine and (b) the full extent to which it is feasible to rapidly reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels – including by adopting “demand restraint” measures.
We also contend in this context that the Commission must assess the level of cost to European society of measures of this kind that would be “proportional to the aim pursued”, that aim being limiting Russia’s ability to continue its war. In other words, the question it must ask is what is a fair cost for European society to bear, given the consequences of Russia’s war for the people of Ukraine. This assessment would also require the Commission to assess how this cost can be most fairly borne throughout the EU. The Commission has not conducted any of these assessments.
In relation to the human rights impacts of climate change, the complaint alleges that the Commission must assess (a) the climate change implications of any measures it considers to reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels and (b) how a rapid reduction in the EU’s reliance on these fossil fuels can be achieved in a manner that is most consistent with the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, the complaint emphasises the fact that the EU has proposed the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure without having assessed the risk of fossil fuel “lock-in” (which experts have pointed to) or without having assessed whether it is possible to rapidly reduce imports without constructing new fossil fuel infrastructure (as experts have stated is possible).
The complaint also points to the fact that the Commission has not assessed the implications of the measures it has taken to substitute supply of Russian oil and gas with other sources for emissions in other countries. This issue is particularly relevant to the recent agreement between the Commission and the U.S. for the latter to supply Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to the EU given the methane leakage associated with gas extraction in the U.S. Methane is a highly potent GHG which over a period of 20 years causes 84 times more warming than carbon dioxide. Various studies have compared the climate impact of gas with coal – the most greenhouse gas intensive fossil fuel – when methane leakage in the process of its extraction is taken into account and found that where between 3% and nearly 5% of extracted gas leaks into the atmosphere, gas has the same climate impact as coal. In the U.S. context, a recent study by researchers at Stanford University found that more than 9 percent of all methane produced in New Mexico is being leaked into the atmosphere.
The Ombudsman’s “implementing provisions” outline the way in which her office processes complaints that an EU institution has engaged in maladministration. First, she must consider whether to open an inquiry on foot of the complaint. This is a step which normally only takes weeks, especially where the complaint is urgent.
If the Ombudsman opens an inquiry, she may then invite the Commission to provide a reply to the complaint. There is a default 3-month time limit for replies but this can be shortened taking into account urgency. Where a complaint raises issues that are in the public interest, as this complaint clearly does, “the timeframe for responding shall be as short as is reasonably possible” according to Article 4 of the implementing provisions.
Ultimately, the Ombudsman can make a finding of maladministration and also make a recommendation to the Commission. While her recommendations are not binding, as her website states, “the rate of compliance is consistently high”. The Ombudsman also reports on her inquiries to the European Parliament, which has previously called for a full embargo on Russian fossil fuels.