Over the last two years, the world has experienced a global energy crisis, with surging oil, coal, and natural gas prices. For European households, this translates into higher gasoline and diesel prices at the pump as well as increased electricity and heating costs. The increase in energy related costs began in 2021, as the world economy struggled with supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and intensified as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. In response, European governments have implemented a variety of energy tax cuts (Sgaravatti et al., 2023), with a particular focus on reducing the consumer cost of transport fuel. This policy paper aims to contextualize current transport fuel prices in Europe by addressing two related questions: Are households today paying more for gasoline and diesel than in the past? And should policymakers respond by changing transport fuel tax rates? The analysis will focus on case studies from Sweden, Georgia, and Latvia, countries that vary in economic development, energy independence, reliance on Russian oil, transport infrastructure, and transport fuel tax rates. Through this study, we aim to paint a nuanced picture of the implications of rising fuel prices on household budgets and provide policy guidance.
Record High Gasoline Prices, Historically Cheap to Drive
Sweden has a long history of using excise taxes on transport fuel as a means to raise revenue for the government and to correct for environmental externalities. As early as in 1924, Sweden introduced an energy tax on gasoline. Later, in 1991, this tax was complemented by a carbon tax levied on the carbon content of transport fuels. On top of this, Sweden extended the coverage of its value-added tax (VAT) to include transport fuels in 1990. The VAT rate of 25 percent is applied to all components of the consumer price of gasoline: the production cost, producer margin, and excise taxes (energy and carbon taxes).
In May 2022, the Swedish government reduced the tax rate on transport fuels by 1.80 SEK per liter (0.16 EUR). This reduction was unprecedented. Since 1960, there have only been three instances of nominal tax rate reductions on gasoline in Sweden, each by marginal amounts in the range of 0.04 to 0.22 SEK per liter. Prior to the tax cut, the combined rate of the energy and carbon tax was 6.82 SEK per liter of gasoline. Adding the VAT that is applied on these taxes, amounting to 1.71 SEK, yields a total excise tax component of 8.53 SEK. This amount is fixed in the short run and does not vary with oil price changes.
Figure 1. Gasoline Pump Price, 2000-2023.
Source: Drivkraft Sverige (2023).
Figure 1 shows the monthly average real price of gasoline in Sweden from January 2000 to October 2023. The price has slowly increased over the last 20 years and has been historically high in the last year and a half. Going back even further, the price is higher today than at any point since 1960. Swedish households have thus lately been paying more for one liter of gasoline than ever before.
However, a narrow focus on the price at the pump does not take into consideration other factors that affect the cost of personal transportation for households.
First, the average fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet has improved over time. New vehicles sold in Sweden today can drive 50 percent further on one liter of gasoline compared to new vehicles sold in 2000. Arguably, what consumers care about the most is not the cost of gasoline per se but the cost of driving a certain distance, as the utility one derives from a car is the distance one can travel. Accounting for vehicles’ fuel efficiency improvement over time, we find that even though it is still comparatively expensive to drive today, the current price level no longer constitutes a historical peak. In fact, the cost of driving 100 km was as high, or higher, in the 2000-2008 period (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Gasoline Expenditure per 100 km.
Source: Trafikverket (2023) and Drivkraft Sverige (2023).
Second, any discussion of the cost of personal transportation for households should also factor in changes in household income over time. The Swedish average real hourly wage has increased by more than thirty percent between 2000-2023. As such, the cost of driving 100 km, measured as a share of household income, has steadily declined over time. Further, this pattern is consistent across the income distribution; for instance, the cost trajectory for the bottom decile is similar to that of all wage earners (as illustrated in Figure 3). In 1991, when the carbon tax was implemented, the average household had to spend around two thirds of an hour’s wage to drive 100 km. By 2020, that same household only had to spend one third of an hour’s wage to drive the same distance. There has been an increase in the cost of driving over the last two years, but in relation to income, it is still cheaper today to drive a certain distance compared to any year before 2013.
Figure 3. Cost of Driving as a Share of Income, 1991-2023.
Source: Statistics Sweden (2023).
Taken all together, we see that on the expenditure side, vehicles use fuel more efficiently over time and on the income side, households earn higher wages. Based on this, we can conclude that the cost of travelling a certain distance by car is not historically high today.
Response From Policymakers
It is, however, of little comfort for households to know that it was more expensive to drive their car – as a share of income – 10 or 20 years ago. We argue that what ultimately matters for households is the short run change in cost, and the speed of this change. If the cost rises too fast, households cannot adjust their expenditure pattern quickly enough and thus feel that the price increase is unaffordable. In fact, the change in the gasoline price at the pump has been unusually rapid over the last two years. Since the beginning of 2021, until the peak in June 2022, the (nominal) pump price rose by around 60 percent.
So, should policymakers respond to the rapid price increase by lowering gasoline taxes? The perhaps surprising answer is that lowering existing gasoline tax rates would be counter-productive in the medium and long run. Since excise taxes are fixed and do not vary with the oil price, they reduce the volatility of the pump price by cushioning fluctuations in the market price of crude oil. The total excise tax component including VAT constitutes more than half of the pump price in Sweden, a level that is similar across most European countries. This stands in stark contrast with the US, where excise taxes make up around 15 percent of the consumer price of gasoline. As a consequence, a doubling of the price of crude oil only increases the consumer price of gasoline in Sweden by around 35 percent, while it increases by about 80 percent in the US. Households across Sweden, Europe, and the US have adapted to the different levels of gasoline tax rates by purchasing vehicles with different levels of fuel efficiency. New light-duty vehicles sold in Europe are on average 45 percent more fuel-efficient compared to the same vehicle category sold in the US (IEA 2021). As such, US households do not necessarily benefit from lower gasoline taxation in terms of household expenditure on transport fuel. They are also more vulnerable to rapid increases in the price of crude oil. Having high gasoline tax rates thus reduces – rather than increases – the short run welfare impact on households. Hence, policymakers should resist the temptation to lower gasoline tax rates during the current energy crisis. With imposed tax cuts, households will, in the medium and long run, buy vehicles with higher fuel consumption and thus become more exposed to price surges in the future – again compelling policymakers to adjust tax rates, creating a downward spiral. Instead, alternative measures should be considered to alleviate the effects of the heavy price pressure on low-income households – for instance, revenue recycling of the carbon tax revenue and increased subsidies of public transport.
To reach environmental and climate goals, Sweden urgently needs to phase out the use of fossil fuels in the transport sector – Sweden’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. This is exactly what a gradual increase of the tax rate on gasoline and diesel would achieve. At the same time, it would benefit consumers by shielding them from the adverse effects of future oil price volatility.
The most common response from policymakers regarding fuel tax rates however goes in the opposite direction. In Sweden, the excise tax on gasoline and diesel was reduced by 1.80 SEK per liter in 2022 and the current government plans to further reduce the price by easing the biofuel mandate. Similar tax cuts have been implemented in a range of European countries. Therefore, the distinguishing factor in the current situation lies in the exceptional responses from policymakers, rather than in the gasoline costs that households are encountering.
Gasoline Price Swings and Their Consequences for Georgian Consumers
The energy crisis that begun in 2021 has also made its mark on Georgia, where the operational expenses of personal vehicles, encompassing not only gasoline costs but also maintenance expenses, account for more than 8 percent of the consumer price index. The rise in gasoline prices sparked public protest and certain opposition parties proposed an excise tax cut to mitigate the gasoline price surge. In Georgia, gasoline taxes include excise taxes and VAT. Until January 1, 2017, the excise tax was 250 GEL per ton (9 cents/liter), it has since increased to 500 GEL (18 cents/liter). Despite protests and the suggested excise tax reduction, the Georgian government chose not to implement any tax cuts. Instead, it initiated consultations with major oil importers to explore potential avenues for reducing the overall prices. Following this, the Georgian National Competition Agency (GNCA) launched an inquiry into the fuel market for motor vehicles, concluding a manipulation of retail prices for gasoline existed (Georgian National Competition Agency, 2023).
The objective of this part of the policy paper is to address two interconnected questions. Firstly, are Georgian households affected by gasoline price increases? And secondly, if they are, is there a need for government intervention to mitigate the negative impact on household budgets caused by the rise in gasoline prices?
The Gasoline Market in Georgia
Georgia’s heavy reliance on gasoline imports is a notable aspect of the country’s energy landscape. The country satisfies 100 percent of its gasoline needs with imports and 99 percent of the fuel imported is earmarked for the road vehicle transport sector. Although Georgia sources its gasoline from a diverse group of countries, with nearly twenty nations contributing to its annual gasoline imports, the supply predominantly originates from a select few markets: Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia. In the last decade, these markets have almost yearly accounted for over 80 percent of Georgia’s total gasoline imports. Furthermore, Russia’s share has substantially increased in recent years, amounting to almost 75 percent of all gasoline imports in 2023. The primary reason behind Russia’s increased dominance in Georgia’s gasoline imports is the competitive pricing of Russian gasoline, which between January and August in 2023 was almost 50 percent cheaper than Bulgarian gasoline and 35 percent cheaper than Romanian gasoline (National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023). Given the dominance of Russian gasoline in Georgia, the end-user (retail) prices of gasoline in Georgia, are closer to gasoline prices in Russia than EU gasoline prices (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. End-user Gasoline Prices in Georgia, Russia and the EU, 2013-2022.
Source: International Energy Agency, 2023.
However, while the gasoline prices increased steadily in 2020-2022 in Russia, gasoline prices in Georgia increased sharply in the same period. This more closely replicated the EU price dynamics rather than the Russian one. The sharp price increase in gasoline raised concerns from the Georgian National Competition Agency (GNCA). According to the GNCA one possible reason behind the sharp increase in gasoline prices in Georgia could be anti-competitive behaviour among the five major companies within the gasoline market. Accordingly, the GNCA investigated the behaviour of major market players during the first eight months of 2022, finding violations of the Competition Law of Georgia. Although the companies had imported and were offering consumers different and significantly cheaper transport fuels compared to fuels of European origin, their retail pricing policies were identical and the differences in product costs were not properly reflected in the retail price level. GNCA claims the market players coordinated their actions, which could have led to increased gasoline prices in Georgia (National Competition Agency of Georgia. (2023).
Given that increased gasoline prices might lead to increased household expenditures for fuel, it is important to assess the potential impact of recent price developments on household’s budgets.
Exploring Gasoline Price Impacts
Using data from the Georgian Households Incomes and Expenditures Survey (National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023), weekly household expenditures on gasoline and corresponding weekly incomes were computed. To evaluate the potential impact of rising gasoline prices on households, the ratio of household expenditures on gasoline to household income was used. The ratios were calculated for all households, grouped in three income groups (the bottom 10 percent, the top 10 percent and those in between), over the past decade (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Expenditure on Gasoline as Share of Income for Different Income Groups in Georgia, 2013-2022.
Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023.
Figure 2 shows that between 2013 and 2022, average households allocated 9-14 percent of their weekly income to gasoline purchases. There is no discernible increase in the ratio following the energy crisis in 2021-2022.
Considering the different income groups, the upper 10 percent income group experienced a slightly greater impact from the recent rise in gasoline prices (the ratio increased), compared to the overall population. For the lower income group, which experienced a rise in the proportion of fuel costs relative to total income from 2016 to 2021, the rate declined between 2021 and 2022. Despite the decline in the ratio for the lower-level income group, it is noteworthy that the share of gasoline expenditure in the household budget has consistently been high throughout the decade, compared to the overall population and the higher-level income group.
The slightly greater impact from the rise in gasoline prices for the upper 10 percent income group is driven by a 4 percent increase in nominal disposable income, paired with an 8 percent decline in the quantity of gasoline (Figure 3) in response to the 22 percent gasoline price increase. Clearly, for this income group, the increase in disposable income was not enough to offset the increase in the price of gasoline, increasing the ratio as indicated above.
For the lower 10 percent income group, there was a 23 percent increase in nominal disposable income, paired with a 9 percent decline in the quantity of purchased gasoline (Figure 3) in response to the 22 percent gasoline price increase . Thus, for this group, the increase in disposable income weakened the potential negative impact of increased prices, eventually lowering the ratio.
Figure 3. Average Gasoline Quantities Purchased, by Household Groups, per Week (In Liters) 2013-2022.
Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023.
The Georgian energy market is currently fully dependent on imports, predominantly from Russia. While sharp increases in petrol prices have been observed during the last 2-3 years, they do not seem to have significantly impacted Georgian households’ demand for gasoline. Noteworthy, the lack of impact from gasoline price increases on Georgian households’ budgets, as seen in the calculated ratio (depicted in Figure 2), can be explained by the significant rise in Georgia’s imports from the cheap Russian market during the energy crisis years. Additionally, according to the Household Incomes and Expenditures survey, there was in 2022 an annual increase in disposable income for households that purchased gasoline. However, the data also show that low-income households spend a high proportion of their income on gasoline.
Although increased prices did not significantly affect Georgian households, the extremely high import dependency and the lack of import markets diversification poses a threat to Georgia’s energy security and general economic stability. Economic dependency on Russia is dangerous as Russia traditionally uses economic relations as a lever for putting political pressure on independent economies. Therefore, expanding trade and deepening economic ties with Russia should be seen as risky. Additionally, the Russian economy has, due to war and sanctions, already contracted by 2.1 percent in 2022 and further declines are expected (Commersant, 2023).
Prioritizing actions such as diversifying the import market to find relatively cheap suppliers (other than Russia), closely monitoring the domestic market to ensure that competition law is not violated and market players do not abuse their power, and embracing green, energy-efficient technologies can positively affect Georgia’s energy security and positively impact sustainable development more broadly.
Fueling Concerns: The True Cost of Transportation in Latvia
In May 2020, as the Latvian Covid-19 crisis began, Latvia’s gasoline price was 0.99 EUR per liter. By June 2022, amid the economic effects from Russia’s war on Ukraine, the price had soared to a record high 2.09 EUR per liter, sparking public and political debate on the fairness of fuel prices and potential policy actions.
While gas station prices are salient, there are several other more hidden factors that affect the real cost of transportation in Latvia. This part of the policy paper sheds light on such costs by looking at some of its key indicators. First, we consider the historical price of transport fuel in Latvia. Second, we consider the cost of fuel in relationship to average wages and the fuel type composition of the vehicle fleet in Latvia.
The Price of Fuel in Latvia
Latvia’s nominal retail prices for gasoline (green line) and diesel (orange line) largely mirror each other, though gasoline prices are slightly higher, in part due to a higher excise duty (see Figure 1). These local fuel prices closely follow the international oil market prices, as illustrated by the grey line representing nominal Brent oil prices per barrel.
The excise duty rate has been relatively stable in the past, demonstrating that it has not been a major factor in fuel price swings. A potential reduction to the EU required minimum excise duty level will likely have a limited effect on retail prices. Back of the envelope calculations show that lowering the diesel excise duty from the current 0.414 EUR per liter to EU’s minimum requirement of 0.33 EUR per liter could result in approximately a 5 percent drop in retail prices (currently, 1.71 EUR per liter). This at the cost of a budget income reduction of 0.6 percent, arguably a costly policy choice.
In response to recent years’ price increase, the Latvian government opted to temporarily relax environmental restrictions, making the addition of a bio component to diesel and gasoline (0.065 and 0.095 liters per 1 liter respectively) non-mandatory for fuel retailers between 1st of June 2022 until the end of 2023. The expectation was that this measure would lead to a reduction in retail prices by approximately 10 eurocents. To this date, we are unaware of any publicly available statistical analysis that verifies whether the relaxed restriction have had the anticipated effect.
Figure 1. Nominal Retail Fuel Prices and Excise Duties for Gasoline and Diesel in Latvia (in EUR/Liter), and Nominal Brent Crude Oil Prices (in EUR/Barrel), January 2005 to August 2023.
The True Cost of Transportation
Comparing fuel retail prices to average net monthly earnings gives insight about the true cost of transportation in terms of purchasing power. Figure 2 displays the nominal net monthly average wage in Latvia from January 2005 to June 2023 (grey line). During this time period the average worker saw a five-fold nominal wage increase, from 228 EUR to 1128 EUR monthly. The real growth was two-fold, i.e., the inflation adjusted June 2023 wage, in 2005 prices, was 525 EUR.
Considering fuel’s share of the wages; one liter of gasoline amounted to 0.3 percent of an average monthly wage in 2005, as compared to 0.12 percent in 2023, with diesel displaying a similar pattern. Thus, despite recent years’ fuel price increase, the two-fold increase in purchasing power during the same time period implies that current fuel prices may not be as alarming for Latvian households as they initially appeared to be.
Figure 2. Average Nominal Monthly Net Wages in Latvia and Nominal Prices of One Liter of Gasoline and Diesel as Shares of Such Wages (in EUR), January 2005 to June 2023.
Another factor to consider is the impact of technological advancements on fuel efficiency over time. The idea is simple: due to technological improvements to combustion engines, the amount of fuel required to drive 100 kilometers has decreased over time, which translates to a lower cost for traveling additional kilometers today. An EU average indicator shows that the fuel efficiency of newly sold cars improved from 7 liters to 6 liters per 100 km, respectively, in 2005 and 2019. While we lack precise data on the average fuel efficiency of all private vehicles in Latvia, we can make an informed argument in relation to the technological advancement claim by examining proxy indicators such as the type of fuel used and the average age of vehicles.
Figure 3 shows a notable change in the fuel type composition of the vehicle fleet in Latvia. Note that the decrease in the number of cars in 2011 is mainly due to a statistical correction for unused cars. At the start of the 21st century, 92 percent of Latvian vehicles were gasoline-powered and 8 percent were diesel-powered. By 2023, these proportions had shifted to 28 percent for gasoline and 68 percent for diesel. Diesel engines are more fuel efficient, usually consuming 20-35 percent less fuel than gasoline engines when travelling the same distance. Although diesel engines are generally pricier than their gasoline counterparts, they offer a cost advantage for every kilometer driven, easing the impact of rising fuel prices. A notable drawback of diesel engines however, is their lower environmental efficiency – highlighted following the 2015 emission scandal. In part due to the scandal, the diesel vehicles growth rate have dropped over the past five years in Latvia.
Figure 3. Number of Private Vehicles by Fuel Type and the Average Age of Private Vehicles in Latvia, 2001 to 2023.
Figure 3 also shows that Latvia’s average vehicle age increased from 14 years in 2011 to 15.1 years in 2023. This is similar to the overall EU trend, although EU cars are around 12 years old, on average. This means that, in Latvia, the average car in 2011 and 2023 were manufactured in 1997 and 2008, respectively. One would expect that engines from 2008 have better technical characteristics compared to those from 1997. Recent economic research show that prior to 2005, improvements in fuel efficiency for new cars sold in the EU was largely counterbalanced by increased engine power, enhanced consumer amenities and improved acceleration performance (Hu and Chen, 2016). I.e., cars became heavier, larger, and more powerful, leading to higher fuel consumption. However, after 2005, cars’ net fuel efficiency started to improve. As sold cars in Latvia are typically 10-12 year old vehicles from Western European countries, Latvia will gradually absorb a more fuel-efficient vehicle fleet.
The increase of purchasing power, a shift to more efficient fuel types and improvements in engine efficiency have all contributed to a reduction of the overall real cost of transportation over time in Latvia. The recent rise in fuel prices to historically high levels is thus less concerning than it initially appears. Moreover, a growing share of cars will not be directly affected by fuel price fluctuations in the future. Modern electric vehicles constitute only 0.5 percent of all cars in Latvia today, however, they so far account for 10 percent of all newly registered cars in 2023, with an upward sloping trend.
Still, politicians are often concerned about the unequal effects of fuel price fluctuations on individuals. Different car owners experience varied effects, especially when considering factors like income and location, influencing transportation supply and demand.
First, Latvia ranks as one of the EU’s least motorized countries, only ahead of Romania, with 404 cars per 1000 inhabitants in 2021. This lower rate of vehicle ownership is likely influenced by the country’s relatively low GDP per capita (73 percent of the EU average in 2022) and a high population concentration in its capital city, Riga (32 of the population lives in Riga city and 46 percent in the Riga metropolitcan area). In Riga, a developed public transport system reduces the necessity for personal vehicles. Conversely, areas with limited public transport options, such as rural and smaller urban areas, exhibit a higher demand for personal transportation as there are no substitution options and the average distance travelled is higher than in urban areas. Thus, car owners in these areas tend to be more susceptible to the impact of fuel price volatility.
Second, Latvia has a high Gini coefficient compared to other EU countries, indicating significant income inequality (note that the Gini coefficient measures income inequality within a population, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 indicating maximum inequality. In 2022, the EU average was 29.6 while Latvia’s Gini coefficient was 34.3, the third highest in the EU). With disparities in purchasing power, price hikes tend to disproportionately burden those with lower incomes, making fuel more costly relative to their monthly wages.
These income and location factors suggest that inhabitants in rural areas are likely the most affected by recent price hikes. Distributional effects across geography (rural vs urban) are often neglected in public discourse, as the income dimension is more visible. But both geography and income factors should be accounted for in a prioritized state support, should such be deemed necessary.
- Commersant. (2023). Economic dependence on Russia is growing rapidly – reasons and risks. Commersant.
- Drivkraft Sverige. (2023). Drivkraft Sverige: Data Set. drivkraftsverige.se/statistik/priser/bensin/
- Hu, K. and Chen, Y. (2016). Technological growth of fuel efficiency in European automobile market 1975–2015. Energy Policy, 98, pp.142-148.
- IEA. (2021). Fuel Consumption of Cars and Vans. Tracking Report. International Energy Agency.
- International Energy Agency. (2023). End-Use Prices Data Explorer. https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tools/end-use-prices-data-explorer?tab=Overview
- National Competition Agency of Georgia. (2023). Regarding the investigation carried out in accordance with the order of the Chairman of the National Competition Agency of Georgia dated August 16, 2022 N04/165.
- National Statistics Office of Georgia. (2023). External Trade Portal. Retrieved from https://ex-trade.geostat.ge/en
- National Statistics Office of Georgia. (2023). Households Incomes and Expenditures Survey. https://www.geostat.ge/en/modules/categories/128/databases-of-2009-2016-integrated-household-survey-and-2017-households-income-and-expenditure-survey
- Sgaravatti, G., Tagliapietra, S., & Zachmann, G. (2022). National policies to shield consumers from rising energy prices. Bruegel Datasets.
- Statistics Sweden. (2023). Average hourly wage statistics. http://www.statistikdatabasen.scb.se
- Trafikverket. (2023). Vägtrafikens utsläpp 2022. Technical report. Swedish Transport Administration.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, large parts of Europe have experienced skyrocketing energy prices and a threat of power shortages. The need to transition to low-carbon energy systems, driven by sustainability concerns, further adds to the pressure put on the European energy infrastructure. This year’s Energy Talk, organized by Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, invited four experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges of energy infrastructure resilience in a foreseeable future.
Energy infrastructure has an indispensable role in facilitating the functioning of modern society, and it must – today as well as in the future – be resilient enough to withstand various challenges. One of the most important challenges – the green transition: shifting towards economically sustainable growth by decarbonizing energy systems and steering away from fossil fuels – requires energy infrastructure to absorb subsequent shocks. Another, and preeminent challenge, is that, even when directly targeted and partly destroyed as in the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, energy infrastructure should be withstanding. Additionally, energy infrastructure is increasingly subject to supply chain disruptions, energy costs increase or network congestions. How does our energy infrastructure react to these challenges? How do they affect its ability to facilitate the needs of the green transition? Which regulations/measures should be implemented to facilitate energy infrastructure resilience?
Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) invited four speakers to the 2023 annual Energy Talk to discuss the future of Europe’s Energy infrastructure resilience. This brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.
Energy System Resilience in the Baltics
Ewa Lazarczyk, Associate Professor at Reykjavik University, addressed the question of energy system resilience, focusing on the Baltic States and their dependence on Russia and other neighbors to fulfill their electricity needs.
The Baltic States are not self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption. Since 2009, Lithuania has become a net importer of electricity, relying on external sources to fulfill its electricity demand. Similarly, Estonia experienced a shift towards becoming a net importer of electricity around 2019, following the closure of environmentally detrimental oil fueled power plants.
The Baltics are integrated with the Nordic market and are heavily dependent on electricity imports from Finland and Sweden. Additionally, all three Baltic States are part of the BRELL network – a grid linking the electricity systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which provides stability for their electrical networks. As a result, despite the absence of commercial electricity trading between Estonia and Russia, and limited commercial trading between Russia and the other two Baltic states, the power flows between the Baltic States and Russia and Belarus still exist. This creates a noticeable dependency of the Baltics on Russia, and a potential threat, should Russia decide to disconnect the Baltics from BRELL before the planned separation in 2024/2025.
This dependency was put on trial when Russia on May 15th 2022 cut its electricity trade with Europe. On the one hand, the system proved to be relatively resilient as the cut did not lead to any blackouts in the Baltics. On the other hand, price volatility amplified in its main import partner countries, Sweden and Finland, and congestion increased as compared to 2021.
Figure 1. Price volatility in Sweden and Finland before and after the trade cut.
This increased price volatility and congestion following the Russian halt in electricity trade gives an indication that the Baltics and the Nordics are vulnerable to relatively small supply cuts even at the current demand levels.
In the future, electricity consumption is however expected to increase throughout the region as a result of the electrification of the economy (e.g., by 65 percent in 2050 in the Nordic region). This highlights the need to speed up investments into energy infrastructure of internal energy markets.
In summary; recent events have demonstrated a remarkable resilience of the Baltic State’s electricity system. While the disruption of commercial flows from Russia did have some impact on the region, overall, the outcome was positive. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the region relies heavily on electricity imports, and with increasing demand for power in both the Baltics and the neighboring areas, potential issues with supply security could arise if the demand in the Nordics cannot be met through increased production. The risk of an early disconnection from the BRELL network further amplifies this concern. However, the case of Ukraine – which managed to abruptly disconnect from Russian electricity networks – serves as an example that expediting the process of establishing new connections is feasible, although not risk free.
The Ukrainian Energy Sector and the Immediate Threat from Russia
While the Baltics are facing the effects from the Russian halt in electricity trade and the threat of a potential premature disconnection from BRELL, Ukraine’s energy networks are at the same time experiencing the direct aggression from Russia.
Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Center of Public Finance and Governance at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), and Igor Piddubnyi, Analyst on Energy Sector Damages and Losses and Researcher at the Center for Food and Land Use Research at KSE, both gave insight into the tremendous damages to the Ukrainian energy system from Russian attacks, the short-term solutions to cope with the damage, as well as the long-term implications and reconstruction perspectives.
Since the invasion, about 50 percent of the energy infrastructure has been damaged by shelling. In addition, several power plants are under Russian control or located in Russian occupied territories. As of February 2023, nearly 16 GW of installed capacities of power plants remained in Russian control, equivalent of the peak demand. Apart from the damages to the producing side, transmission and distribution facilities have also been severely affected, as well as oil storage facilities. In April 2023, the damages to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were estimated to amount to $8.3 billion, almost 6 percent of the total estimated direct damages from the war.
While the damages are massive, the population did not experience complete blackouts, and the Ukrainian energy system did not collapse. This is partly due to diesel-driven generators substituting much of the damaged electricity generation and partly due to a fall in demand of about 30-35 percent in 2022, mainly driven by decreased industry demand.
In the short term, Ukraine is likely to continue to face Russian attacks. Its top energy priorities would thus be to restore damaged facilities and infrastructure like heating and clean water, increase the stocks of fuel, gas, and coal, and to try to liberate occupied areas and facilities. Another vital aspect of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its resilience towards the Russian goal of “freezing” the country relates to energy efficiency. Ukraine’s energy efficiency has been relatively low, with the highest rate of electricity losses in Europe, and the numbers are also high for gas supply and district heating. Here, minor changes such as light bulb switching, can have great impacts. Additionally, solar panels – especially those that can also store energy – can help alleviate the acute pressure on the transmission grid. Other vital measures involve continued donations from Ukraine’s partners, sustained efforts from energy workers – at the risk of their lives – and persistent successful deterrence of cyber-attacks currently targeting the country.
Achieving a greener energy system is currently challenging (if not nearly impossible) due to the use of diesel-driven generators, the attacks on the energy system, and the fight for control over nuclear power plants such as Zaporizhzhia, which since March 2022 is under the control of Russian forces. Damages to renewable energy production further exacerbate these difficulties.
Thus, it is crucial to ensure that the planning and reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector is done in accordance with the European Green Deal. By 2030, the country should have at least 25 percent renewables in its energy mix, which would require substantial installations of at least 13 GW of wind, solar, small hydro and biogas capacities. In addition, transition entails decommissioning old coal power plants to run on natural or biogas instead of coal.
While this is a tall task, investments targeted to the energy system are not only essential for Ukraine’s population to sustain through the 2023/2024 winter – but also to facilitate the green transition in Europe. The potential for export of biomethane, green hydrogen, and nuclear power from Ukraine to Europe is considerable. As Europe’s biofuel demand is expected to increase by 63 percent while Ukrainian grain exports are still proving to be challenging, biofuel production for export on the European market is a particularly likely future scenario for the Ukrainian energy market.
In summary; the Ukrainian energy sector has done remarkably well, considering the impact of the damages from the Russian aggression. As Ukrainian short-term energy priorities lie in facilitating quick and efficient responses to infrastructural damages, current measures may not be particularly environmentally friendly. However, the longer-term reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector has great potential for being in line with the green transition objectives.
Energy System’s Resilience in the Green Transition
Mikael Toll, Senior Advisor at Ramboll Management Consulting highlighted the importance of infrastructure resilience. He emphasized the significance of the Energy Trilemma in achieving a successful transition to greener energy systems. This trilemma implies balancing between energy security, environmental sustainability, and affordability, all representing societal goals. Focusing on the energy security aspect of this trilemma, he stressed that energy infrastructure should be part of a more holistic approach to the problem. It is essential to establish resilient supply chains and implement efficient management procedures to prevent and mitigate the negative consequences of disruptions. It entails ensuring the performant infrastructure and supply, but also fostering well-functioning markets, putting in place state-governed crisis management mechanisms, and cooperation with other states. By combining these elements, one can enhance preparedness both in normal times and during crises.
Sweden as an Example
Sweden has since long been increasing its share of renewables in the energy mix, as depicted in Figure 2. This suggests that it is relatively well-prepared to the needs of the green transition. However, electricity demand is expected to increase by 100 percent in the coming years, driven by increased electrification of the industry and transport sectors, adding pressure to Sweden’s electricity system. The need for more investments in several energy systems is tangible, and investment opportunities are numerous. However, political decisions concerning the energy system in Sweden tend to be short-sighted, even though energy infrastructures have a long lifespan – often well over 50 years. As a result, investment risks are often high and change character over time, which creates a lack of infrastructure investment. Other challenges to Sweden’s energy resilience include limited acceptance of new energy infrastructure among the public, time-consuming approval processes, and a lack of thorough impact assessment.
Figure 2. Total supplied energy in Sweden, 1970-2020.
Further, the current geopolitical context creates an increased need to consider external threats – such as energy system disruptions resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine – and increased dependency on China as a key supplier of metals and batteries required for electrification. It is also important to realize that external influence may affect not only physical infrastructure but also domestic decision-making processes. This calls for more energy and political security alongside the green transition, in combination with higher readiness against security threats and a reassessment of global value chains.
In summary; to successfully move into a greener future, it is necessary to invest in energy systems and infrastructure based on a careful multi-dimensional analysis and with the support of long-sighted political decisions. At the same time, we must push investments that also consider the security threats from and dependencies on global actors.
This year’s Energy Talk provided an opportunity to hear from leading experts on the current situation of Europe’s energy resilience. It outlined the key challenges of the green transition in the current geopolitical and economic context. Greener solutions for Europe’s energy system will require tremendous physical efforts and investments but also political will and public understanding. There are, however, immense benefits to be realized if the associated risks are not overlooked.
On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Ewa Lazarczyk, Yuliya Markuts, Igor Piddubnyi and Mikael Toll for participating in this year’s Energy Talk. The presentations from the webinar can be seen here.
- Swedish Energy Agency. (2022). Energy in Sweden 2022 – an overview. https://energimyndigheten.a-w2m.se/Home.mvc?ResourceId=208766
- Lazarczyk, E. and Le Coq, C. (2023). Power coming from Russia and Baltic Sea Region’s energy security. REPORT 2023:940. Energiforsk.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The world is currently experiencing what can be labelled as a global energy crisis, with surging prices for oil, coal, and natural gas. For households in Sweden and abroad, this translates into higher gasoline and diesel prices at the pump as well as increased electricity and heating costs. The increase in energy-related costs began in 2021, as the world economy struggled with supply chain issues, and intensified as Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February this year. In response, the Swedish government announced on March 14th this year that the tax rate on transport fuels would be temporarily reduced by 1.80 SEK per liter (€0.17) and that every car owner would receive a one-off lump-sum transfer of 1000 SEK in compensation (1500 SEK for car owners in rural areas). This reduction in transport fuel tax rates in Sweden is unprecedented. Since 1960, the nominal tax rate on gasoline has only been reduced three times – and then only by very small amounts, ranging from 0.04 to 0.22 SEK per liter. In this policy brief, we put the current gasoline price in Sweden into a historical context and answer two related questions: are Swedish households paying more today for gasoline than ever before? And should policymakers respond by reducing gasoline taxes?
The Price of Gasoline in Sweden
Sweden has a long history of using excise taxes on transport fuel as a means to raise revenue for the government and to correct for environmental externalities. As early as 1924, Sweden introduced an energy tax on the price of gasoline. Later in 1991, this tax was complemented by a carbon tax levied on the carbon content of transport fuels. On top of this, Sweden extended the coverage of its value-added tax (VAT) to include transport fuels in 1990. The VAT rate of 25 percent is applied to all components of the consumer price of gasoline: the production cost, producer margin, and excise taxes (energy and carbon taxes). Before the announced tax cut this year, the combined rate of the energy and carbon tax was 6.82 SEK per liter of gasoline. Adding the VAT that is applied on these taxes, amounting to 1.71 SEK, yields a total excise tax component of 8.53 SEK. This amount is fixed in the short run and does not vary with changes in the oil price.
Figure 1. Gasoline pump price: 2000-2022
Figure 1 shows the monthly average real price of gasoline in Sweden from 2000 to March of 2022. The price has increased over the last 20 years and is today historically high. Going back even further, the price is higher today than at any point since 1960. Swedish households are thus paying more for one liter of gasoline than ever before.
Figure 2. Gasoline expenditure per 100 km
However, a narrow focus on the price at the pump does not take into consideration other factors that affect the cost of personal transportation for households. First, the average fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet has improved over time. New vehicles sold today in Sweden can drive 50 percent further on a liter of gasoline compared to new vehicles sold in 2000. Arguably, what consumers care about most is not the cost of one liter of gasoline per se but the cost of driving a certain distance – the utility we derive from a car is the distance we can travel. Accounting for the improvement over time in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles (Figure 2), we find that even though it is still comparatively expensive to drive today, the current price level no longer constitutes a historical peak. In fact, the cost of driving 100 km was as high, or higher, in the period from 2000-2008.
Second, any sensible discussion of the cost of personal transportation for households should also factor in changes in household income over time. The average real hourly wage has increased by close to 40 percent between 2000 and 2022. As such, the cost of driving 100 km, measured as a share of household income, has steadily gone down over time. Even more, this pattern is similar across the income distribution; for instance, the cost trajectory of the bottom decile group is similar to that of all employees. This is illustrated in Figure 3. In 1991, when the carbon tax was implemented, an average household had to spend around two-thirds of an hour’s wage to be able to drive a distance of 100 km. By 2020, that same household only had to spend one-third of an hour’s wage to drive the same distance. There is an increase in the cost of driving over the last two years but it is still cheaper today to drive a certain distance, in relation to income, compared to any year before 2012.
Taken all of this together, we have seen that over time, vehicles use fuel more efficiently on the expenditure side, and households earn higher wages on the income side. Based on this, we can conclude that the cost of travelling a certain distance by car is not historically high today. On the contrary, when measured as a share of income, it was 50 percent more expensive for most of the 21st century.
Figure 3. Cost of driving as a share of income
Response From Policymakers
It is, however, of little comfort for households to know that it was more expensive to drive their car – as a share of income – 10 or 20 years ago. We argue that what ultimately matters for the household is the short run change in cost – and the speed of this change. If the cost rises too fast, households cannot adjust their expenditure pattern quickly enough and thus feel that the price increase is unaffordable. And the change in the gasoline price at the pump has been unusually rapid over the last 12 months. From the beginning of 2021 until March of 2022, the pump price has risen by around 50 percent.
So, should policymakers respond by lowering gasoline taxes? The possibly surprising answer is that lowering existing gasoline tax rates would be counter-productive in the medium and long run. Since excise taxes are fixed and do not vary with the oil price, they reduce the volatility of the pump price by cushioning fluctuations in the market price of crude oil. The total excise tax component including VAT constitutes more than half of the pump price in Sweden, a level that is similar across most European countries. This stands in stark contrast with the US, where excise taxes only make up around 15 percent of the consumer price of gasoline. As a consequence, a doubling of the price of crude oil only increases the consumer price of gasoline in Sweden by around 35 percent, but in the US by around 80 percent. Furthermore, households across Sweden, Europe, and the US have adapted to the different levels of gasoline tax rates by purchasing vehicles with different levels of fuel efficiency. New light-duty vehicles sold in Europe are on average 45 percent more fuel-efficient compared to the same vehicle category sold in the US (IEA 2021). As such, US households do not necessarily benefit from lower gasoline taxation in terms of household expenditure on transport fuel and are even more vulnerable to rapid increases in the price of crude oil. Having high gasoline tax rates thus reduces – and not increases – the short run welfare impact on households. Hence, policymakers should resist the temptation to lower gasoline tax rates even during the current energy crisis. In the medium and long run, households would buy vehicles with higher fuel consumption and would be more exposed to price surges in the future, again compelling policymakers to adjust tax rates and creating a downward spiral. Instead, alternative measures should be considered to alleviate the effects of heavy price pressure on low-income households – for instance, revenue recycling of the carbon tax revenue and increased subsidies for public transport.
To reach environmental and climate goals, Sweden urgently needs to phase out the use of fossil fuels in the transport sector, which is Sweden’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. This is exactly what a gradual increase of the tax rate on gasoline and diesel would achieve. At the same time, it would benefit consumers by shielding them from the adverse effects of future oil price volatility.
The most common response from policymakers goes in the opposite direction. In Sweden, the Social Democrats – the governing party – have announced a tax cut on gasoline and diesel of 1.80 SEK per liter but the political parties in opposition have promised even larger tax cuts. Some proposals would even effectively abolish the entire energy and carbon tax on gasoline. Similar tax cuts have been announced for example in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Therefore, this time is indeed different – but in terms of the exceptional reactions from policymakers rather than in terms of the cost of gasoline that households face.
- IEA. (2021). “Fuel Consumption of Cars and Vans” Tracking Report, International Energy Agency, November 2021.
- SPBI. (2022). “Svenska Petroleum och Biodrivmedel Institutet: Data Set” SPBI. drivkraftsverige.se/statistik/priser/bensin/
- Statistics Sweden. (2022). “Average hourly wage statistics”. Available: http://www.statistikdatabasen.scb.se
- Trafikverket. (2022). “Vägtrafikens utsläpp 2021” Tech. rep., Swedish Transport Administration, February 7th 2022.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, the West has been contemplating sanctions on Russian oil and gas imports. For the EU, this plan poses a significant challenge due to the long-existing sizable dependency on Russian energy. In this brief, we outline the possible effects of banning Russian oil and gas on the energy import bill across the EU. While the effects of such a ban will go beyond a direct increase in the import costs of oil and gas, our estimates provide a useful reference point in discussing the impact of such sanctions on the EU. Our estimates suggest that the relative increase in the import costs in the case of an oil embargo would be more evenly spread across the Member States, than in the case of a natural gas ban. This parity makes an EU-wide Russian oil embargo a more straightforward sanction policy. In turn, a full replacement of Russian gas imports across the EU – due to either a gas embargo or retaliation from Russia in response to an oil ban – is likely to require some kind of solidarity mechanism.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the West has been discussing the idea of sanctioning the aggressor by banning Russian energy imports. The motivation is quite straightforward. In 2021, Russian oil and gas exports constituted 49% of Russian goods exports or 14 % of Russian GDP, and the Western world (in particular, the European Union) is the main recipient of these exports. Banning Russian oil and gas export would, thus, lead to heavy pressure on the Russian economy.
The discussion has been quite heated. The US actually implemented a ban on Russian oil and gas in early March 2022, but this gesture has been largely seen as relatively symbolic, as the US dependency on Russian energy imports is quite limited. EU politicians have voiced different opinions about the feasibility of Russian energy sanctions. While some advocate an immediate ban, others argue for a more gradual decrease in imports or even for continuing imports effectively in a business-as-usual fashion. While the EC has announced plans to cut down the consumption of Russian gas by two-thirds in 2022 and mentioned the implementation of “some form of oil embargo” as part of their 6th sanction package, there is still no consensus across the EU. Sanctions on Russian oil and gas imports have not been implemented in the EU by the time of writing this brief.
The main reason for this hesitation is the extent to which Russia remains the main energy supplier. In 2020, 39% of gas and 36% of oil and oil products in the EU were imported from Russia, and the feasibility and consequences of replacing these with alternative supplies are debatable. Since the beginning of the war academics, international organizations and consultancies have offered a variety of analytical materials on the feasibility and implications of such energy sanctions (see e.g., Bachmann et al. 2022. Chepeliev et al, 2022, Fulwood et al., 2022, Guriev and Itskhoki, 2022, Hilgenstock and Ribakova, 2022, IEA, 2022, RYSTAD 2002a,b, Stehn, 2022 to name just a few).
This brief contributes to these estimates by discussing how a Russian oil and gas ban could affect the energy import bill across individual EU countries. We start by providing details on the EU’s dependency on Russian oil and gas imports. We then proceed to access the scope of the costs that a ban on Russian energy could imply for the EU energy sector. We conclude with a discussion about the feasibility of political agreement on such sanctions.
Import Dependency and Dependency on Russian Energy Across the EU
The two primary channels through which a Russian energy ban would affect the vulnerability of an EU country are the dependency on Russian oil and gas, and the overall energy import dependency. The former matters since a ban would imply an immediate necessity to replace missing volumes of energy. This would lead to an increase in energy prices widely across markets, thereby signifying the importance of the latter channel, the overall import dependency.
Figures 1 and 2 depict the dependency on Russian oil and gas across the EU member states. In Figure 1, the dependency is measured as a ratio of Russian energy imports to the gross available energy for each energy type separately – crude oil, oil and oil products, and natural gas. However, this measure may not reflect the importance of the respective energy type in a country’s energy portfolio. For example, in Finland, Russian gas imports constitute 67% of gross available natural gas. However, natural gas is less than 7% of the country’s energy mix, thus the overall effect of Russian gas on the Finnish energy sector and economy is rather limited. To account for this, Figure 2 offers an overview of the contribution of Russian energy imports to the cumulative energy portfolio across the EU.
Both figures show that there is a large variation both in terms of the contribution of individual energy types and in terms of overall dependency on Russian fuels. For example, the latter is almost negligible for Cyprus and well over 50% for Lithuania (however, Figure 2 accounts for re-exports and, thus, overestimates the role of Russian energy imports for Lithuanian domestic available energy in 2020.
Figure 1. Share of Russian energy imports in gross available energy, by fuel, 2020.
Figure 2. Share of Russian energy imports in total gross available energy, 2020. Source: Eurostat
While the above data summarizes the EU dependency on Russian energy imports in volume terms, it is also useful to have a sense of the costs of this dependency. As we are not aware of any source that has accurate data on the value of imports across the EU states, we construct a back-of-the-envelope assessment of the costs of Russian energy imports to the EU in 2021 using the available trade data for 2021 and the allocation of imports across the EU Member States for 2020 (see Appendix 1 for more details). Admittedly, these estimates only account for the differences in prices of energy imports from Russia vs. other suppliers; it does not capture e.g., the difference in prices of Russian gas across the Member States. Still, they offer useful insight into the scope of these expenses, in levels (Figure 3) and the share of GDP (Figure 4).
The results suggest that, while the expenses are quite sizable – e.g., the total value of Russian fossil energy imports to the EU in 2021 exceeds 110 bln EUR, – they correspond to around 0.7% of European GDP. Again, there is variation across the Member States, but in most cases – effectively all cases that do not account for re-export – the share of Russian energy imports is below 2% of GDP.
Figure 3. Value of Russian fossil energy imports, bln EUR, 2021.
Figure 4. Share of oil, oil products and gas imports in GDP, 2021.
Figure 4 also touches upon the second source of vulnerability towards a ban on Russian energy, mentioned at the beginning of this section. It depicts not only the value of Russian oil and gas imports as a percent of GDP but the overall dependency on imports of oil and gas as a share of GDP. The larger this dependency is, the bigger is the impact of an increase in energy prices for a country. Figure 4 not only confirms the abovementioned variation across the Member States but also shows that some countries with little-to-moderate direct dependency on Russian oil and gas – e.g., Portugal or Spain, – are still likely to experience a sizable negative shock to their energy expenses due to the market price increase.
Importantly, these figures give only a very rough representation of the potential damage that a ban on Russian energy imports may cause to the EU economies. Two EU Member States with a comparable dependency could react to the shortage of Russian gas in very different ways, depending on a variety of other factors – the extent and scalability of domestic production, diversification of their remaining energy portfolio in terms of energy suppliers and types of oil the economy relies on (e.g., light vs. heavy), energy infrastructure (e.g., LNG regasification facilities or storage), consumption structure, etc. Le Coq and Paltseva (2009, 2012) discuss in detail some of these factors, and the possibilities to account for them. However, for the sake of simplicity, in this brief we focus on the (volume- and value-based) measures of dependency.
Potential Costs of Russian Energy Import Ban
In this section, we discuss the potential implications of banning imports of Russian oil and gas on the costs of fossil energy imports in the EU. We offer a few historical parallels in order to assess the potential scope of the price reaction to such a ban. Furthermore, we proceed to provide estimates of the costs of oil and gas imports across the EU Member States, would such sanctions be implemented.
Oil Imports Ban
We start with a potential ban on Russian oil and oil product imports. To put things in perspective, it might be useful to present some numbers. According to the IEA, Russia recently surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil and oil products exporter. In December 2021, global Russian crude and oil product exports constituted 7.8 million barrels per day (mb/d), with exports of crude oil and condensate at 5 mb/d. Out of the total 7.8 mb/d, exports to OECD countries constituted 5.6 mb/d, with crude oil exports amounting to 3.9 mb/d. Assuming that the size of the global oil market in 2021 returns to its pre-pandemic 2019 level (the actual data for 2021 global oil consumption is not available yet), Russian crude oil exports to the OECD constitute 8.6% of global crude exports. The corresponding figure for oil products is 6.8% (BP, 2021).
So, what would happen if the developed world – which for the purpose of this analysis we proxy by OECD – bans Russian oil exports? In the recent public discussion, many voices have compared this potential development to the 1973 oil crisis. This crisis was initiated by OAPEC’s – the Arab members of OPEC, – oil embargo on the US in response to their support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The OAPEC, the biggest group of oil exporters at the time, completely banned oil exports to the US (and a number of other western countries), and also introduced production restraints that affected the global oil market. The (WTI) oil price during this episode went up by a factor of three (see, e.g, Baumeister and Kilian, 2016).
However, a few important features are likely to differ between the oil crisis of 1973 and the potential impact of the Russian imports ban. First, the net loss of oil supplies during the Arab embargo was around 4.4 mb/d, which at that point constituted around 14% of traded oil (Yergin, 1992). Recall that Russian supplies to OECD are around half of this share. Moreover, it is likely that the ban would not lead to a complete withdrawal of these amounts from the market, but rather to a partial rerouting of Russian oil to Asia and, consequently, a readjustment of world oil trade flows. Second, Yergin (1992) points out that, at the time of the 1973 oil crisis, oil consumption was growing at 7.5% per year, which exacerbated the impact of the embargo. In contrast, the current assessments of oil demand growth are at around 2% per year (IEA, 2022). Third, the energy portfolios are much more diversified now than in 1973, with gas and renewables playing a more substantial role. In the case of an isolated oil imports ban (not extending to gas imports), this would argue in favor of a more moderate price impact. Finally, the oil embargo of 1973 was a never-seen-before episode in the history of the oil market. The uncertainty about future developments has likely contributed to the oil price increase. While there is substantial uncertainty associated with the impact of a Russian oil imports ban, it is arguably lower than in 1973. Based on these considerations, a three-fold oil price increase in the case of a Russian oil export ban seems highly unlikely.
As a possible lower bound of the price impact, one can consider a much more recent price shock brought about by drone attacks on the oil processing facilities Abqaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia in 2019. In the initial assessment of the damage, Saudi Arabian authorities stated that the attack decreased the national oil production by 5.7 mb/d – which is more than the total of Russian oil exports to OECD. As a reaction, the intraday oil price went up by 20 %, and the daily oil price by 12%. In two weeks, production and export capacity was almost back to normal and the price returned to pre-shock levels.
Notice that the scale of the daily shortage in this episode exceeds the likely shortage under the Russian imports ban. However, a moderate price reaction, in this case, was clearly driven by expectations for the temporary nature of the shortage, as the damage was to be repaired in a matter of a few weeks, if not days. In comparison, the Russian oil ban is likely to last much longer. In this way, a price increase of 12%, or even 20%, would be an underestimation of the effect of a Russian oil imports ban.
While the above discussion suggests some bounds for the possible price effects of a Russian oil ban, the uncertainty around such price developments is very high. Figure 5 shows the cost estimates of oil and oil products imports to the EU for two potential price levels – $120/b, and $180/b. Each price would roughly correspond to an increase of 33%, and 100%, respectively, relative to the pre-invasion price of $90/b. In the estimation, we simplistically assume that the price of oil products increases by the same amount as the price of crude oil. We also assume that the missing Russian oil can be replaced by alternatives, such that oil consumption does not change compared to the 2021 level for the lower price scenario and that it decreases by 2% for the high-cost scenario due to the demand adjustments.
Figure 5. Estimated effect of Russian oil ban on oil and gas imports in 2022: value of oil and oil products imports, EUR bln (left axis), and oil import expenses relative to 2021 level (right axis).
The estimates suggest that the total oil and oil products import costs for the EU would be just above EUR 640 bln for the $120/b price level and EUR 940 bln for the $180/b price level. Furthermore, the costs across the EU Member States would vary greatly depending on the size of the economy and its exposure to oil imports.
This shows that – provided that the Russian oil will be fully replaced but at a higher price – the expected cost of this is in the range of 1.7-1.9 times the 2021 expenses at 120$/b, and 2.5-2.8 times that if the price would be 180$/b. While there is some variation across Member States, mostly driven by the removal of the somewhat cheaper Russian oil from the consumption basket, it is rather limited. Figure 5 also demonstrates that the ban on Russian oil imports is going to affect not only countries that directly depend on Russian oil but also countries with large oil and oil products imports due to the market price effects.
Gas Imports Ban
Now we proceed to discuss the costs of banning Russian gas imports into the EU. While LNG has increased the fungibility of the natural gas market, it remains sizably segmented. Therefore, we concentrate on the effect on the European market.
Russian gas constituted around 39% of the EU gas consumption volumes in 2020, and just below 30% in 2021 due to restricted supply during the second half of the year (McWilliams, Sgaravatti and Zachmann, 2021). It is currently a common understanding that fully substituting 155 Bcm of Russian gas imports in 2021 with imports from other pipeline suppliers, LNG, storage, and increasing domestic production is not feasible in 2022. Different sources have given different estimates on the extent of the resulting shortage, see e.g. Table 1.
Table 1. Alternatives to replace EU imports of Russian natural gas
As shown in Table 1, the net missing gas consumption ranges between 12% and 22% across different scenarios. As there are no historical episodes in the gas market to which such a development can be compared, it is difficult to assess the potential price reaction. One rough comparison can be made based on the oil market situation during the Arab oil embargo of 1973 discussed above. Then, the net loss of oil constituted about 9% of the oil consumption in “the free world” (Yergin, 1982), even lower than the most optimistic prognosis in Table 1. However, 33 Mcb of Russian gas (or 6% of 2021 the EU’s gas consumption) has already been imported to the EU since the beginning of 2022, making the potential gas shortage quite comparable to the oil shortage of 1973. Subject to all differences between the two shocks, one can, perhaps, still argue that the gas price increase following a ban on Russian gas imports should not exceed three-fold from before the invasion.
It is important to stress here that the EU gas market situation in the case of the Russian gas embargo would be principally different from the oil market one. Due to supply shortage not coverable by the alternative gas sources, a gas embargo would lead not only to a stronger price increase than in the case of oil, but also to significant downward demand adjustments, rationing and, perhaps, even price controls. (This, again, parallels the developments during the 1973 oil crisis). The negative effect of such rationing is not accounted for by the import bill. On the contrary, a shortage of supply would imply lower gas import volumes, biasing the impact on the gas import bill downward. In this way, an import bill reaction to sanctions in the case of natural gas may more strongly underestimate the overall impact on the economy than in the case of oil.
While the above argument suggests a higher price increase in the case of a gas embargo in comparison to an oil ban, there is still a lot of uncertainty in forecasting the gas price. Figure 6 depicts the estimates for the natural gas cost across the EU for two potential price levels – EUR 160/Mwh, and EUR 240/Mwh, a two- and three-fold increase relative to the pre-invasion price level of EUR 80/Mwh. Both estimates assume a (moderate) 8% decrease in the demand reflecting the abovementioned supply shortage and demand adjustments. We assume that the shortage is affecting both the importers of Russian gas and those who use other suppliers due to the common gas market in the EU and the use of reverse flow technology – as was the case for Poland which was denied Russian gas on April 27th, 2022 due to not paying for it in Rubles (see Appendix 1 for a discussion of implications of this assumption).
Not surprisingly, the gas import costs increase drastically in comparison to 2021. The total figures for the EU would be just below EUR 680 bln in the two-fold price increase scenario, and exceed 1 trn EUR in the case of a three-fold increase, in contrast to EUR 185 bln in 2021. Again, the largest economies bear the highest costs in absolute value.
When it comes to the relative increase in gas import value, two further observations follow from Figure 6. First, there is a huge variation in the increase in the value of gas imports across the Member States, from no effect in Cyprus which does not import natural gas, to 7.7 times in the case of a price doubling and 11.5 times in the case of a price tripling. Again, this variation originates from the necessity to replace cheaper Russian gas with more expensive gas sources, and the effect is much stronger than for oil. However, just like in the oil case, the states not directly importing Russian gas will still experience a huge negative shock from such a price hike. (Recall also, that the variation of the impact across the Member States is likely underestimated here, as the gas bill does not account for potential rationing which may differentially impact the importers of Russian gas).
Second, the increase in the value of gas imports exceeds the scale of the price increase even for the least affected Member States (excluding Cyprus). This is due to the unprecedented gas price increase during the EU gas crisis that took place between late 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Due to this increase, the pre-invasion gas price in February 2022 was 60% higher than the average gas price in 2021.
Figure 6. Estimated effect of Russian natural gas ban on gas imports in 2022: value of gas imports, EUR bln (left axis), and gas import expenses relative to 2021 level (right axis).
The above estimates suggest that a ban on Russian oil and gas imports is going to be costly for the EU. While uncertainty is very high concerning the possible energy price increase following such a ban, historical parallels together with the market characteristics suggest that both the price increase and the rise in the value of imports are going to be stronger for natural gas. The resulting increase in the EU-wide import values relative to 2021 ranges from 1.8 to 2.6 times for the considered oil scenarios, and from 3.7 to 5.5 times for the natural gas scenarios.
Unsurprisingly, the most sizable import costs will be faced by the larger EU Member States, as well as those most dependent on oil and gas imports. However, all EU countries are going to be affected due to the market price increase. While the relative rise in the import costs of oil and oil products will be fairly uniformly met across the EU states, the increase in the costs of gas exports will vary greatly, with the largest relative losses faced by the EU states that are currently more exposed to Russian gas imports.
The above figures provide a rough assessment of the potential costs of a Russian fossil fuels ban. The approach does not take into account substitutability between different fuels and resulting cross-effects on prices, which implies that the costs could be both under- and overestimated. It has a very limited and simplistic take on the demand reaction to a price increase, which again may lead to either over- or underestimation of the effect. Neither does it account for the consequences of such price increases on the costs of electricity and implications for the non-energy sector within the economies. The latter may, again, be differentially affected depending on the industrial composition and their relative energy intensity. Another factor to consider is the interconnectivity between the EU economies – for example, an increase in Germany’s energy bill is likely to have a large impact on the entire EU. Moreover, the use of the import bill as a proxy for the overall effect on the economy may have further limitations in the case of supply shortage and rationing. To provide a more precise estimate of the impact of such a ban on the entire economy, for instance on GDP, one would require an extensive and sophisticated model along the lines of the CGE approach, relying on large amounts of data (Bachmann et al. (2022) provide an excellent example of such a study of the effect on Germany). This, however, is beyond the scope of the current assessment.
Still, even this relatively simplistic assessment of import costs of a Russian energy ban offers sufficient food for thought for the discussion of the scale of damage across the EU Member States and the feasibility of oil and gas sanctions. For example, the assessment suggests that an oil ban is likely to yield relative parity across the Member States in terms of the increase in the 2022 oil import bill as compared to the 2021 level. This would imply that, were the EU to decide on a gradual sanctioning of Russian oil and gas, it would be easier to reach an EU-wide agreement on oil sanctions. In turn, moving away from Russian gas – due to either the decision to ban gas imports or retaliation from Russia in response to oil sanctions, -implies very uneven import cost exposure. Thus, to face the challenge of replacing Russian gas imports, the EU would likely need to implement some kind of energy solidarity mechanism.
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The recent record-high gas prices have triggered legitimate concerns regarding the EU’s energy security, especially with dependence on natural gas from Russia. This brief discusses the historical and current risks associated with Russian gas imports. We argue that decreasing the reliance on Russian gas may not be feasible in the short-to-mid-run, especially with the EU’s goals of green transition and the electrification of the economy. To ensure the security of natural gas supply from Russia, the EU has to adopt the (long-proclaimed) coordinated energy policy strategy.
In the last six months, Europe has been hit by a natural gas crisis with a severe surge in prices. Politicians, industry representatives, and end-energy users voiced their discontent after a more than seven-fold price increase between May and December 2021 (see Figure 1). Even if gas prices somewhat stabilized this month (partly due to unusually warm weather), today, gas is four times as expensive as it was a year ago. This has already translated into an increase in electricity prices, and as a result, is also likely to have dramatic consequences for the cost and price of manufacturing goods.
Figure 1. Evolution of EU gas prices since Oct 2020.
These ever-high gas prices have triggered legitimate concerns regarding the security of gas supply to Europe, specifically, driven by the dependency on Russian gas imports. Around 90% of EU natural gas is imported from outside the EU, and Russia is the largest supplier. In 2020, Russia provided nearly 44% of all EU gas imports, more than twice the second-largest supplier, Norway (19.9%, see Eurostat). The concern about Russian gas dependency was exacerbated by the new underwater gas route project connecting Russia and the EU – Nord Stream 2. The opponents to this new route argued that it will not only increase the EU’s gas dependency but also Russia’s political influence in the EU and its bargaining power against Ukraine (see, e.g., FT). Former President of the European Council Donald Tusk stated that “from the perspective of EU interests, Nord Stream 2 is a bad project.”.
However, neither dependency nor controversial gas route projects are a new phenomenon, and the EU has implemented some measures to tackle these issues in the past. This brief looks at the current security of Russian gas supply through the lens of these historical developments. We provide a snapshot of the risks associated with Russian gas imports faced by the EU a decade ago. We then discuss whether different factors affecting the EU gas supply security have changed since (and to which extent it may have contributed to the current situation) and if decreasing dependence on Russian gas is feasible and cost-effective. We conclude by addressing the policy implications.
Security of Russian Gas Supply to the EU, an Old Problem Difficult to Tackle
Russia has been the main gas provider to the EU for a few decades, and for a while, this dependency has triggered concerns about gas supply security (see, e.g., Stern, 2002 or Lewis, New York Times, 1982). However, the problem with the security of Russian gas supplies was extending beyond the dependency on Russian gas per se. It was driven by a range of risk factors such as insufficient diversification of gas suppliers, low fungibility of natural gas supplies with a prevalence of pipeline gas delivery, or use of gas exports/transit as means to solve geopolitical problems.
This last point became especially prominent in the mid-to-late-2000s, during the “gas wars” between Russia and the gas transit countries Ukraine and Belarus. These wars led to shortages and even a complete halt of Russian gas delivery to some EU countries, showing how weak the security of the Russian gas supply to the EU was at that time.
Reacting to these “gas wars”, the EU attempted to tackle the issue with a revival of the “common energy policy” based on the “solidarity” and “speaking in one voice” principles. The EU wanted to adopt a “coherent approach in the energy relations with third countries and an internal coordination so that the EU and its Member States act together” (see, e.g., EC, 2011). However, this idea turned out to be challenging to implement, primarily because of one crucial contributor to the problem with the security of Russian gas supply – the sizable disbalance in Russian gas supply risk among the individual EU Member States.
Indeed, EU Member States had a different share of natural gas in their total energy consumption, highly uneven diversification of gas suppliers, and varying exposure to Russian gas. Several Eastern-European EU states (such as Bulgaria, Estonia, or Czech Republic) were importing their gas almost entirely from Russia; other EU Member States (such as Germany, Italy, or Belgium) had a diversified gas import portfolio; and a few EU states (e.g., Spain or Portugal) were not consuming any Russian gas at all. Russian natural gas was delivered via several routes (see Figure 2), and member states were using different transit routes and facing different transit-associated risks. These differences naturally led to misalignment of energy policy preferences across EU states, creating policy tensions and making it difficult to implement a common energy policy with “speaking in one voice” (see more on this issue in Le Coq and Paltseva, 2009 and 2012).
Figure 2. Gas pipeline in Europe.
The introduction of Nord Stream 1 in 2011 is an excellent example of the problem’s complexity. This new gas transit route from Russia increased the reliability of Russian gas supply for EU countries connected to this route (like Germany or France), as they were able to better diversify the transit of their imports from Russia and be less exposed to transit risks. The “Nord Stream” countries (i.e., countries connected to this route) were then willing to push politically and economically for this new project. Le Coq and Paltseva (2012) show, however, that countries unconnected to this new route while simultaneously sharing existing, “older” routes with “Nord Stream” countries would experience a decrease in their gas supply security. The reason for this is that the “directly connected” countries would now be less interested in exerting “common” political pressure to secure gas supplies along the “old” routes.
This is not to say that the EU did not learn from the above lessons. While the “speaking in one voice” energy policy initiative was not entirely successful, the EU has implemented a range of actions to cope with the risks of the security of gas supply from Russia. The next section explains how the situation is has changed since, outlining both the progress made by the EU and the newly arising risk factors.
Security of Russian Gas Supply to the EU, a Current Problem Partially Addressed
Since the end of the 2000s, the EU implemented a few changes that have positively affected the security of gas supply from Russia.
First, the EU put a significant effort into developing the internal gas market, altering both the physical infrastructure and the gas market organization. The EU updated and extended the internal gas network and introduced the wide-scale possibility of utilizing reverse flow, effectively allowing gas pipelines to be bi- rather than uni-directional. These actions improved the gas interconnections between the EU states (and other countries), thereby making potential disruptions along a particular gas transit route less damaging and diminishing the asymmetry of exposure to route-specific gas transit risks among the EU members. Ukraine’s gas import situation is a good illustration of the effect of reverse flow. Ukraine does not directly import Russian gas since 2016, mainly from Slovakia (64%), Hungary (26%), and Poland (10%) (see https://www.enerdata.net/publications/daily-energy-news/ukraine-launches-virtual-gas-reverse-flow-slovakia.html). The transformation of the gas market organization brought about the implementation of a natural gas hub in Europe and change in the mechanism of gas price formation. It is now possible to buy and sell natural gas via long-term contracts and on the spot market. With the gas market becoming more liquid, it became easier to prevent the gas supply disruption threat.
Second, Europe has made certain progress in diversifying its gas exports. According to Komlev (2021), the concentration of EU gas imports from outside of the EU (excluding Norway), as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, has decreased by around 25% between 2016 and 2020. While the imports are still highly concentrated, with the HHI equal to 3120 in 2020, this is a significant achievement. A large part of this diversification effort is the dramatic increase in the share of liquified natural gas (i.e., LNG) in its gas imports – in 2020, a fair quarter of the EU gas imports came in the form of LNG. An expanded capacity for LNG liquefaction and better fungibility of LNG would facilitate backup opportunities in the case of Russian gas supply risks and improve the diversification of the EU gas imports, thereby increasing the security of natural gas supply.
However, the above developments also have certain disadvantages, which became especially prominent during the ongoing gas crisis. For example, the fungibility of LNG has a reverse side: LNG supplies respond to variations in gas market prices across the world. This change has intensified the competition on the demand side – Europe and Asia might now compete for the same LNG. This is likely to make a secure supply of LNG – e.g., as a backup in the case of a gas supply default or as a diversification device – a costly option.
In turn, new mechanisms of gas price formation in Europe included decoupling the oil and gas prices and changing the format of long-term gas contracts. The percentage of oil-linked contracts in gas imports to the EU dropped from 47% in 2016 to 26% in 2020. In particular, 87% of Gazprom’s long-term contracts in 2020 were linked to spot and forward gas prices and only around 13% to oil prices (Komlev, 2021). This gas-on-gas linking may have contributed to the current gas crisis: Indeed, it undermined the economic incentives of Gazprom to supply more gas to the EU spot market in the current high-price market. Shipping more gas would lower spot prices and prices of hub-linked longer-term contracts for Gazprom. In that sense, the ongoing decline in Russian gas supplies to the EU may reflect not (only) geopolitical considerations but economic optimization.
Similarly, this new mechanism also finds reflection in the ongoing situation with the EU gas storage. The current EU storage capacity is 117 bcm, or almost 20% of its yearly consumption, and thus, can in principle be effective in managing the short-term volume and price shocks. However, the current gas crisis has shown that this option might be far from sufficient in the case of a gas shortage (see, e.g., Zachmann et al., 2021). One of the reasons for this insufficiency can be Gazprom controlling a sizable share of this storage capacity (see https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-004781_EN.html). For example, Gazprom owns (directly and indirectly) almost one-third of all gas storage in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. Combining this storage market position with a long-term gas contract structure may also lead to strategic behavior for economic (on top of potential political) purposes.
Last but not least, the EU gas market is likely to be characterized by increased demand due to the green transition agenda (see Olofsgård and Strömberg, 2022). Being the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel, natural gas has an important role in facilitating green transition and increasing the electrification of the economy. For example, Le Coq et al. (2018) argues that gas capacity should be around 3 to 4 times the current capacity by 2050 for full electrification of transport and heating in France, Germany, or the Netherlands. In such circumstances, the EU is not likely to have the luxury to diminish reliance on Russian gas.
Conclusions and Policy Implications
Keeping the above discussion in mind, should the EU try to diminish its dependence on Russian gas to improve its energy security? This may be true in theory, but in practice, this might be too costly, at least in the short-to-medium run.
The current situation on the EU gas market suggests that simply cutting gas imports from Russia is likely to lead to high prices both in the energy sector and, later, in other sectors of the economy due to spillovers. Substituting gas imports from Russia with gas from other sources, such as LNG, is likely to be very costly and not necessarily very reliable. Alternative measures, e.g., improving interconnections between the EU Member States or controlling transit issues via the use of reverse flow technology, are effective but have limited impact. Simply cutting down gas demand is not a viable strategy. Indeed, with the EU pushing for a green transition and the electrification of the economy, the EU’s gas imports may have to increase. Russian gas may play an important role in this process.
As a result, we believe that the solution to keep the security issue of Russian gas supply at bay lies in the area of common energy policy. It is essential that the EU implements and effectively manages a coordinated approach in dealing with Russian gas supplies. The EU is the largest buyer of Russian gas, and given Russian dependency on hydrocarbon exports, such a synchronized approach would give the EU the possibility to exploit its “large buyer” power. While the asymmetry in exposure to Russian gas supply risks among the EU Member States is still sizable, the improvements in the functioning of the internal gas market and gas transportation within the EU make their preferences more aligned, and a common policy vector more feasible. Furthermore, recent EU initiatives on creating “strategic gas reserves” by making the Member States share their gas storage with one another would further facilitate such coordination. Implementing the “speaking in one voice” gas import policy will allow the EU to fully utilize its bargaining power vis-à-vis Gazprom and spread the benefits of new gas routes from Russia – such as Nord Stream 2 – across its Member States.
- European Commission, 2011, “Speaking with one voice – the key to securing our energy interests abroad“, press release, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_11_1005
- Komlev, S. 2021, “Evolution of Russian Gas Supple to Europe: Contracts and Prices”, Presentation at 34th WS2 GAC, https://minenergo.gov.ru/system/download/14146/158148
- Le Coq C. and E. Paltseva (2020), Covid-19: News for Europe’s Energy Security, FREE Policy brief. https://freepolicybriefs.org/2020/05/07/covid-19-energy-security-europe/
- Le Coq C., J. Morega, M. Mulder, S Schwenen (2018) Gas and the electrification of heating & transport: scenarios for 2050, CERRE report.
- Le Coq C. and E. Paltseva (2013) EU and Russia Gas Relationship at a Crossroads, in Russian Energy and Security up to 2030, Oxenstierna and Tynkkynen (Eds), Routledge.
- Le Coq C. and E. Paltseva (2012) Assessing Gas Transit Risks: Russia vs. the EU, Energy Policy (4).
- Le Coq C. and E. Paltseva (2009) Measuring the Security of External Energy Supply in the European Union, Energy Policy (37).
- Lewis, Paul, “Gas pipeline is producing lots of steam among allies“, New York Times, Feb. 14, 1982, https://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/14/weekinreview/gas-pipeline-is-producing-lots-of-steam-among-allies.html
- Olofsgård A., and S. Strömberg (2022) Environmental Policy in Eastern Europe | SITE Development Day 202, FREE Policy Brief, https://freepolicybriefs.org/2022/01/10/environmental-policy-in-eastern-europe-site-development-day-2021/
- Stern, J., 2002. Security of European Natural Gas Supplies—The Impact of Import Dependence and Liberalization, Royal Institute of International Affairs, available at: 〈http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/files/3035_sec_of_euro_gas_jul02.pdf〉
- Zachmann, G., B. McWilliams and G.Sgaravatti, 2021, How serious is Europe’s natural gas storage shortfall? https://www.bruegel.org/2021/12/how-serious-is-europes-natural-gas-storage-shortfall/
The need for urgent climate action and energy transformation away from fossil fuels is widely acknowledged. Yet, current country plans for emission reductions do not reach the requirements to contain global warming under 2°C. What is worse, there is even reasonable doubt about the commitment to said plans given recent history and existing future investment plans into fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure development. This policy brief shortly summarizes the presentations and discussions at the SITE Development Day Conference, held on December 8, 2021, focusing on climate change policies and the challenge of a green energy transition in Eastern Europe.
Climate Policy in Russia
The first section of the conference was devoted to environmental policy in Russia. As Russia is one of the largest exporters of fossil fuel in the world, its policies carry particular importance in the context of global warming.
The head of climate and green energy at the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow, Irina Pominova, gave an account of Russia’s current situation and trends. Similar to all former Soviet Union countries, as seen in Figure 1, Russia had a sharp decrease in greenhouse gas emissions (hereinafter referred to as GHG emissions) during the early 90s due to the dramatic drop in production following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the level has stabilized, and today Russia contributes to about 5% of the total GHG emissions globally. The primary source of GHG emissions in Russia comes from the energy sector, mainly natural gas but also oil and coal. The abundance of fossil fuels has also hampered investments in renewable resources, constituting only about 3% of the energy balance, compared to the global average of 10%
Figure 1. Annual greenhouse gas emissions per capita
Pominova noted that it is a massive challenge for the country to reach global energy transformation targets since the energy sector accounts for over 20% of national GDP and 28% of the federal budget. Yet, on a positive note, the number of enacted climate policies has accelerated since Russia signed the Paris Agreement in 2019. One notable example is the federal law on the limitation of GHG emissions. This law will be enforced from the end of 2021 and will impose reporting requirements for the country’s largest emitters. The country’s current national climate target for 2030 is to decrease GHG emissions by 30% compared to the 1990 level. As shown in Figure 1, this would imply roughly a 10 percent reduction from today’s levels given the substantial drop in emissions in the 1990’s.
Natalya Volchkova, Policy Director at CEFIR in Moscow, discussed energy intensity and the vital role it fills in Russia’s environmental transition. Energy intensity measures an economy’s energy efficiency and is defined as units of energy per unit of GDP produced. Volchkova emphasized that to facilitate growth in an environmentally sustainable way it is key to invest in technology that improves energy efficiency. Several regulatory policy tools are in place to promote such improvements like bottom-line energy efficiency requirements, sectoral regulation, and bans on energy-inefficient technologies. Yet, more is needed, and a system for codification and certification of the most environmentally friendly technologies is among further reforms under consideration.
As a Senior Program Manager at SIDA, Jan Johansson provided insights on this issue from an international perspective. Johansson gave an overview of SIDA’s cooperation with Russia in supporting and promoting environmental and climate policies in the country. The main financial vehicle of Swedish support to Russia with respect to environmental policy has been a multilateral trust fund established in 2002 under the European Union (EU) Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP). One of the primary objectives of the cooperation has been to improve the environment in the Baltic and Barents Seas Region of the Northern Dimension Area. Over 30 NDEP projects in Russia and Belarus have been approved for financing so far. Seventeen of those have been completed, and the vast majority have focused on improving the wastewater treatment sector.
Johansson also shed light on the differences that can exist between governments in their approach to environmental policy. For example, in the area of solid waste management, Russia prefers large-scale solutions such as landfills and ample sorting facilities. In Sweden and Western Europe, governments have a more holistic view founded on spreading awareness in the population, recycling, corporate responsibility, and sorting at the source.
Environmental Transition in Eastern Europe
In the second part of the conference environmental policies and energy transformation in several other countries in the region were discussed.
Norberto Pignatti, Associate Professor and Centre Director at ISET Policy Institute, talked about the potential for a sustainable energy sector and current environmental challenges in Georgia. The country is endowed with an abundance of rivers and sun exposure, making it a well-suited environment for establishing the production of renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydro. As much as 95 % of domestic energy production comes from renewable sources. Yet, domestic energy production only accounts for 21% of the country’s total consumption, and 58% of imported energy comes from natural gas and 33% from coal. Furthermore, the capacity of renewable energy sources has declined over the last ten years, and particularly so for biofuel due to the mismanagement of forests. A notable obstacle Georgia faces in its environmental transition is attracting investors. Low transparency and inclusiveness from the government in discussions about environmental policy, along with inaccurate information from the media, has led to a low public willingness to pay for such projects. Apart from measures to overcome the challenges mentioned, the government is currently working on a plan to impose emission targets on specific sectors, invest in energy efficiency and infrastructure, and support the development of the renewable energy sector.
Like Georgia, Poland is a country where energy consumption is heavily reliant on imports and where coal, oil, and gas stand for most of the energy supply. On top of that, Poland faces significant challenges with air quality and smog and a carbon-intensive energy sector. On the positive end, Poland established a government-industry collaboration in September 2021, that recognizes offshore wind as the primary strategic direction of the energy transition in Poland. Pawel Wróbel, Founder and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, explained that the impact of the partnership will be huge in terms of not only energy security but also job creation and smog mitigation. The plan implies the installation of 5.9 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 11GW by 2040. Wróbel also talked about the EU’s European Green Deal and its instrumental role in accelerating the energy transition in Poland. By combining EU-wide instruments with tailor-made approaches for each of the member states, the Deal targets a 55% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 through decarbonization, energy efficiency, and expanding renewable energy generation. Michal Myck, Director of CenEA, highlighted the role of social acceptance in accelerating the much-needed energy transition in Poland. In particular, to build political support, there is a crucial need for designing carbon taxes in a way that ensures the protection of vulnerable households from high energy prices.
Adapting to the European Green Deal will also create challenges for countries outside of the EU, especially if a European Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms (CBAM) is put in place in 2026 as suggested. Two participants touched on this topic in the context of Belarus and Ukraine respectively. Yauheniya Shershunovic, researcher at BEROC, talked about her research on the economic implications of CBAM in Belarus. It is estimated that the introduction of CBAM can be equivalent to an additional import duty on Belarusian goods equal to 3.4-3.8% for inorganic chemicals and fertilizers, 6.7-13.7% for metals, and 6.5-6.6% for mineral products. Maxim Fedoseenko, Head of Strategic Projects at KSE, shared similar estimations for Ukraine, suggesting that the implementation of CBAM will lead to an annual loss of €396 million for Ukrainian businesses and a decrease in national GDP of 0.08% per year.
An example of Swedish support to strengthen environmental policies in Eastern Europe was presented by Bernardas Padegimas, Team Leader at the Environmental Policy and Strategy Team at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The BiH ESAP 2030+ project is supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina in preparing their environmental strategy. This task is made more challenging by the country’s unique political structure with two to some extent politically autonomous entities (and a district jointly administered by the two), and elites from the three different major ethnic groups having guaranteed a share of power. The project therefore aims to include a broad range of stakeholders in the process, organized into seven different working groups with 659 members on topics ranging from waste management to air quality, climate change and energy. The project also builds capacity in targeted government authorities, raises public awareness of environmental problems, and goes beyond just environmental objectives: mainstreaming gender equality, social equity and poverty reduction. The project is 80 percent finished and will produce a strategy and action plan for the different levels of governance in the country’s political system. There is also a hope that this process can serve as a model for consensus building around important but at times contentious policy issues more generally in the country.
Public Opinion and Energy Security
Finally, Elena Paltseva, Associate Professor at SITE, and Chloé le Coq, Professor at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Asses (CRED), shared two joint studies relating to the green transition in Europe.
Recent research shows that individual behavioral change has a vital role to play in the fight against climate change, both directly and indirectly through changes in societal attitudes and policies motivated by role models. A precondition for this to happen is a broad public recognition of anthropogenic climate change and its consequences for the environment. The first presentation by Paltseva and Le Coq focused on public perceptions about climate change in Europe (see this FREE policy brief for a detailed account). Using survey data the study explores variation in climate risk perceptions between Western Europe, the non-EU part of Eastern Europe, and Eastern European countries that are EU members. The results show that those living in non-EU Eastern European countries are on average less concerned about climate change. The regional difference can partly be explained by low salience and informativeness of environmental issues in the public discourse in these countries. To support this explanation, they study the impact of extreme weather events on opinions on climate change with the rationale that people who are more aware of climate change risks are less likely to adjust their opinion after experiencing an extreme weather event. They find that the effect of extreme weather events is higher in countries with less independent media and fewer climate-related legislative efforts, suggesting that the political salience of the environment and the credibility of public messages affects individuals’ perceptions of climate change risks.
The second presentation concerned energy security in the EU, and the impact of the environmental transition. It was argued that natural gas will play an important role in Europe’s green transition for two reasons. First, since the transition implies a higher reliance on intermittent renewable energy sources, there will be an increased need for use of gas-fired power plants to strengthen the supply reliability. Second, the electrification of the economy along with the phasing out of coal, oil, and nuclear generation plants will increase the energy demand. Today, about 20% of EU’s electricity comes from natural gas and 90% of that gas comes from outside EU, with 43% coming from Russia. To emphasize what issues can arise when the EU relies heavily on external suppliers, the presentation discussed a Risky External Energy Supply Index (Le Coq and Paltseva, 2009) that considers the short-term impact of energy supply disruptions. This index assesses not only the importance of the energy type used by a country but also access to different energy suppliers (risk diversification). The index illustrates that natural gas is riskier than oil or coal since natural gas importers in the EU depend to a greater extent on a single or few suppliers. Another crucial component of the security of gas supplies arises from the fact that 77% of EU’s net gas imports arrive through pipelines, which creates an additional risk of transit. Here, the introduction of new gas transit routes (from already existing suppliers) may increase diversification and decrease risks to the countries having direct access to the new route. At the same time, countries that share other pipelines with countries that now have direct access may lose bargaining power vis-à-vis the gas supplier in question, as demand through those pipelines could fall. Le Coq illustrated this point applying the Transit Risk Index developed in Le Coq and Paltseva (2012) to the introduction of the North Stream 1 pipeline. She concluded that the green transition and associated increase in demand for natural gas is likely to be associated with higher reliance on large gas producers, such as Russia, and resulting in energy security risks and imbalance in the EU. One way to counteract this effect is to exercise EU’s buyer power vis-a-vis Russia within the EU common energy policy. While long discussed, this policy has not been fully implemented so far.
This year’s SITE Development Day conference gave us an opportunity to highlight yet another key issue, not only for Eastern Europe, but for the whole world: global warming and energy transformation. Experts from across the region, and policymakers and scholars based in Sweden, offered their perspectives on the challenges that lie ahead, but also highlighted initiatives and investments hopefully leading the way towards a brighter future.
List of Participants
- Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas (CRED). Paris, France. Research Fellow at SITE.
- Maxim Fedoseenko, Head of Strategic Projects at KSE Institute. Kyiv, Ukraine.
- Jan Johansson, Senior Program Manager, SIDA. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Michal Myck, Director of CenEA. Szczecin, Poland.
- Bernardas Padegimas, Team Leader: Environmental Policy and Strategy, Stockholm Environmental Institute. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Elena Paltseva, Associate Professor, SITE/SSE/NES. Stockholm, Sweden
- Norberto Pignatti, Associate Professor of Policy at ISET-PI, and Head of the Energy and Environmental Policy Institute at ISET-PI. Tbisili, Georgia.
- Irina Pominova, Head of Climatwe and Green Energy at the Center for Strategic Research. Moscow, Russia.
- Yauheniya Shershunovic, Researcher at BEROC, Minsk, Belarus. PhD Candidate at the Center for Development Research (ZEF). Uni Bonn.
- Natalya Volchkova, Policy Director at CEFIR, Assistant Professor at the New Economic School (NES). Moscow, Russia.
- Pawel Wróbel, Founder and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU. Poland.
- Julius Andersson, Researcher at SITE. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Anders Olofsgård, Associate Professor and Deputy Director at SITE. Stockholm, Sweden.
Food prices escalated during the 2007/2008-food crisis and have remained at historically high levels since. We show that an international export cartel for fertilizers was an important driver of the crisis, explaining up to 60% of the price increase. While biofuel subsidies, high energy prices and financial speculation doubtlessly put stress on food markets, our findings suggest new avenues for policy in the fertilizer market to stabilize food markets.