At the Cop 26 climate conference held in Glasgow last November, almost 200 countries ‘committed’ to the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels, especially coal. Conspicuously, two major powers did not.
While China was circumspect, Russia was unambiguous. Moscow said it had no plans to rein in its fossil fuel production in the coming decades. As the world’s second biggest natural gas producer and the third largest oil producer, accounting for about 10 per cent of global supply, the Kremlin understands its comparative advantage.
Meanwhile, Beijing forges ahead with 43 new coal-fired power stations and 18 blast furnaces, promising the Green faithful, as it boosts annual coal production from its Inner Mongolian mines by almost 100 million tonnes, that it will be CO2 neutral by 2060. Although hardly reported in the West, China’s emissions are growing by 15 per cent a year and comfortably exceed the developed world’s total output.
Last month, Moscow and Beijing agreed to partner on energy. Russian president Vladimir Putin confirmed a deal with Chinese president Xi Jinping, to supply 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year to China via a new pipeline. This helps secure China’s energy supply and makes Europe less important to Moscow.
Their approach is in stark contrast to President Joe Biden’s Pollyanna view of the world. To appease green activists, he renounced energy independence by halting oil and gas drilling on public land and by revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit which was to carry crude oil from Canada to the United States.
The Green Left has also succeeded in capturing Europe’s policymakers. They continue to phase out coal and nuclear energy and have now identified biomass, which accounts for nearly 60 per cent of EU renewables, as climate unfriendly. These policies leave Brussels increasingly dependent on Moscow. Over the last five years alone, imports of Russian natural gas which account for 41 per cent of Europe’s total supply, have increased by 40 per cent.
Yet, for 30 years Russia’s relations with the West have festered over Moscow’s contention that Nato’s expansion breached a 1990 agreement. Tensions boiled over in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia. Six years later, as Nato watched on, President Putin illegally annexed Ukrainian Crimea. Not even when Nato began equipping and training the Ukrainian armed forces prior to membership, did Brussels seek to lessen dependence on Russian gas. It’s not as though Europe was unaware of Moscow’s hostile response which made a full scale invasion of Ukraine highly likely.
Four years ago, President Trump called out Europe’s complacency. To universal condemnation, he said Nato members were spending too little on their own defence. But Trump was right. Even now, only one-third of Nato members spend the agreed two per cent of their GDP on defence.
Trump was also right when he claimed ‘Germany is a captive of Russia’. Chancellor Angela Merkel, countered she was ‘in a better position to judge her country’s dependence than the current US president’. Yet so dependent is Berlin on Moscow, it initially baulked at sanctions to suspend the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and, the proposal to exclude a number of Russian banks from the Swift payment system.
Eating his former chancellor’s words, German finance minister, Christian Lindner cautioned, if the EU took such a step, ‘there is a high risk that Germany will no longer be supplied with gas or raw materials’.
Now Germany is saying it will bring defence spending above two per cent of GDP and will create a strategic gas reserve. Do we hear stable doors closing?
Russia’s extraordinary power belies the reality that its economy is only slightly bigger than Australia’s. However, its military budget as a percentage of GDP is twice as big. Of course, it possesses nuclear weapons. But, it is no Soviet Union. Its relative power comes not from the size of its economy, its military hardware or troops on the ground. It comes from intent and the incompetence and naivety of its adversaries. Time will tell how effective the latest sanctions are and how Moscow retaliates.
That EU policymakers consciously opt for climate change over national security raises legitimate questions about their rationality. It’s as though Europe’s ‘Green Deal’, which aims to reduce inequality by changing the economics of energy, construction, agriculture and taxes to incentivise ‘decarbonisation’, was framed by the Russians and Chinese. Either that, or it was devised by modern Walter Mitty types.
But then EU policymakers appear to inhabit the same delusional world as US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry. Despite Moscow’s unashamed declaration that it has no intention of reining in production of fossil fuels, Mr Kerry told the BBC he hopes when Russia’s invasion is complete, ‘President Putin will help us stay on track with respect with what we need to do for the climate’. No doubt Ukrainians will be cheered by that.
One thing is certain. Presidents Putin and Xi are not taking orders from Greta Thunberg. Rather they have been emboldened by their adversaries’ weak defence and reluctance to put troops on the ground. They are realists and not governed by hope. Of course they are also dangerously hierarchical and prone to over-reach. But they are deliberate.
By contrast, rather than action, the West resorts to symbolism, like US members of Congress sporting Ukrainian colours. It smacks of impotence; like chanting ‘Je suis Charlie’ after the Paris Charlie Hebdo slayings. Certainly, it is unlikely to deter China from its Taiwan ambitions. Beijing boasts the world’s second largest economy and wields the largest military. It dominates the United Nations and is intent on global hegemony. Biden’s record of incompetence and the West’s lack of intent only offer encouragement.
For too long the West has banked on hope. It’s where the deluded, the naive and the complacent take refuge from reality. But it is a dangerous asylum in which its leaders are unaccountable and its believers unprepared. Inevitably, reality will prevail. But can a rational mindset?
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