G7 nations must strengthen solidarity to shore up LNG supplies for Europe

The Japanese government intends to supply part of Japan’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports to Europe. Advanced nations should unite to deal with the energy crisis caused by mounting tensions over Ukraine.

There are growing concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine. The United States and Europe intend to impose economic sanctions on Russia if Moscow takes military action. But, there is speculation that Russia is expected to stop supplying natural gas to Europe in retaliation.

Natural gas is a primary fuel for thermal power generation, and about 40% of Europe’s imports of LNG come from Russia. If the supply is suspended, there could be a serious power shortage. Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening to cut off supplies to Europe, hoping it will put a wedge between the United States and European countries.

The Group of Seven (G7) advanced nations, which share the values of freedom and democracy, must work together to secure resources and make it clear they will not allow Russia to change the status quo by force.

The amount of Japan’s LNG imports that will be redirected to Europe is expected to be several hundreds of thousands of tons by March. Although the figure amounts to a small percentage of Europe’s monthly imports from Russia, it is still significant that advanced countries are taking concerted action to procure resources.

The Japanese government has decided to offer extraordinary assistance to Europe in response to requests from the United States and other countries. Unlike oil, there are no national reserves for LNG. It easily vaporizes, and companies only have about two weeks’ worth of inventory.

In Japan, thermal power generation using LNG accounts for about 40% of the nation’s entire production of electricity. In January last year, there was a shortage of electricity mainly due to cold weather and a shortage of LNG inventory. The supply-demand balance for electricity has been tight this winter as well.

The Japanese government has asked trading companies and other entities that hold interests overseas to allocate surplus supply to Europe after ensuring that domestic needs have been met. Several LNG carriers that were originally bound for Japan will be directed to Europe.

Geopolitical risks are also increasing in Asia. In the future, there are concerns that Japan may face difficulties in procuring LNG. From the viewpoint of energy security, international cooperation is needed.

Europe has long been ahead of the world in decarbonization and has been focusing on the spread of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, while speeding up efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

However, wind power output dropped in Europe last summer due to unseasonable weather, causing a power crisis. In the aftermath, prices of alternative fuels such as natural gas and crude oil soared. It can also be said that radical decarbonization has highlighted problems regarding energy security.

Diversification of energy sources, including the use of nuclear power, could be a solution. The energy crisis in Europe should be an opportunity for countries around the world to consider realistic energy policies.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 11, 2022.