War in Ukraine: Could halting Russia’s Nord Stream 2 lead to more renewable energy in Europe?

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Climate experts say the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline could mean greater investment in clean energy across Europe.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted its approval of the project, designed to bring more Russian gas to Germany, on Thursday after the Kremlin formally recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

Construction on the project was completed in September 2021 at a cost of £8.3bn but it has yet to receive the necessary European regulatory approval to permit its operator, Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, to turn on the taps.

Suzana Carp, executive director of climate campaign group Carbon-Free Europe, said the German government putting the breaks on the project could spark greater investment in renewable energy and zero-carbon fuels across Europe reduce their reliance on Russian gas.

“The alternative to importing fossil fuels is the building up of autonomous energy sources at a national and EU level,” she told The Independent.

“I also think it will advance hydrogen projects and other zero-carbon fuels. The mentality has started to shift.

“It’s no longer business as usual. We’ll see a move towards renewable, nuclear, and zero-carbon fuels that gives Europe the autonomy it needs.”

But Dr Ella Gilbert, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, sounded a note of warning.

She said: “If there isn’t a move towards renewables it might mean the use of even dirtier fossil fuels like coal or shale gas.

“I hope there’s this diversification of energy supply and we invest in renewable technologies because if we don’t we’re moving backwards.

“It’s really a no-brainer for any government with any form of foresight.”

The Nord Stream 2 project is designed to double the amount of gas flowing from Russia straight to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing traditional transit nation Ukraine.

The pipeline will be able to deliver 55 billion cubic metres of gas to Europe each year. Burning this gas will produce an estimated 106 million tonnes of CO2 a year, an amount roughly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions of the Czech Republic.

Asked if PM Boris Johnson was pleased by the move, his official spokesman said: “Yes. I mean, we’ve seen what the Germans have said on this.

“And I think, you know, this has been something that the prime minister has been calling for for some time, and indeed again this morning - that Europe has to wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons.

“It’s a point we’ve made consistently with regards to Nord Stream 2. As the Prime Minister said, it’s right that we snip the feed of Nord Stream from our bloodstream.”

Germany obtains half its gas from Russia and had argued that Nord Stream 2 was primarily a commercial project to diversify energy supplies for Europe.

But it faced opposition within the European Union and from the United States on the grounds that it would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, as well as denying Ukraine transit fees and making it more vulnerable to Russian invasion.

Mr Scholz said he had asked the economy ministry to take steps to ensure that certification could not take place at the moment.

"There can be no certification of the pipeline and without this certification, Nord Stream 2 cannot begin operating," he told a news conference.

"The appropriate departments of the economy ministry will make a new assessment of the security of our supply in light of what has changed in the last few days."

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Germany’s decision was “a morally, politically and practically correct step in the current circumstances”.

“True leadership means tough decisions in difficult times. Germany’s move proves just that,” he added.