Japan should watch, learn from efforts being made in Europe

Russia, a resource-rich country, has been squeezing its supply of natural gas to Europe in an effort to force an easing of sanctions pressure imposed on the country for its invasion of Ukraine.

It is hoped that Europe will not give in to Russia’s threats and will maintain solidarity by strengthening self-protective measures, such as reducing its gas consumption.

The European Union member states have agreed to reduce gas use from August of this year to March of next year by 15% compared to their average consumption over the past five years. Industry is expected to be the main target, sparing households, hospitals, schools and other important facilities.

The 27 EU member states have different degrees of dependence on Russian-produced gas, according to the depth of their relations with Moscow, their geographical distance and the energy mix of their power sources.

Some countries including Hungary are heavily dependent on Russian gas, while Germany relies on Russia for more than 40% of its gas imports. But the dependence of southern European countries, such as Spain and Portugal, is small.

It is significant that countries with different circumstances agreed to the EU’s policy of a uniform 15% cut, despite some disarray among them. The fact that Russia has become an imminent threat to them in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine may have led to the agreement.

At present, however, the 15% reduction is not compulsory, but a goal to strive for on a voluntary basis, in principle. The EU member states managed to maintain solidarity by establishing exemptions from the target for the steel industry and small island countries that are not connected to the gas network.

The problem is to what extent the reduction target can be achieved. Each country is supposed to promote a concrete reduction plan and submit it to the EU by the end of September.

When taking such measures as temporarily suspending factory production activities, each government is to set priorities on target industries, taking into consideration such factors as whether imports from other regions are available and the degree of difficulty in resuming production.

Also, compensation according to each company’s gas use reductions will likely be considered.

Gas supplies from Russia to Germany have dropped by 80% compared to before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany is also reportedly preparing a “gas rationing system” in the event of further tight supply.

The German government has decided to expand the operation of coal-fired power plants and started discussions on extending the operation of nuclear power plants that are scheduled to close by the end of this year. Attention is being paid to whether the current situation will lead to a revision of Germany’s decarbonization policy.

Japan is also under pressure from Russia, which is poised to seize Japanese interests in the Russian Far East’s Sakhalin-2 oil and natural gas project. Thus Japan, too, needs to keep a close eye on Europe’s gas-saving measures.

Japan also must promote the diversification of energy sources from a long-term perspective, through such measures as using coal-fired power generation with environmentally friendly technologies and building new nuclear power plants and restarting existing nuclear reactors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 28, 2022)