How can Switzerland wean itself off Russian oil and gas?
Russia’s war with Ukraine has shown how fragile international supply chains are. Products from wheat to petrol have been affected by price rises and supply chain shocks, but few items have been quite so controversial as Russian oil and gas.
Switzerland struggles with its energy supply
In recent years, Switzerland has begun to struggle more with its energy supply. After the country failed to reach an Institutional Framework Agreement (IFA) with the neighbouring EU trade bloc, importing energy from nearby has become more difficult.
However, it is difficult to know how useful this route may have been during the past months. The Ukraine crisis has revealed that many other European nations are just as heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas as Switzerland, perhaps even more so. Germany, for example, has faced much criticism for initially being slow to cancel the construction of a new gas pipeline with Russia, and for having given the Putin regime more power by closing German nuclear power plants in favour of importing Russian gas.
What is fortunate for Switzerland is the geographic advantage that it has, thanks to its vast network of lakes, rivers and mountains. This allows the country to generate approximately 60 percent of its needed energy from hydropower. Despite this, there is naturally a shortfall of around 40 percent that needs to be found elsewhere. That’s what the Swiss government - alongside many other governments facing the same issue - is now desperately trying to combat.
Where else can Switzerland buy oil and gas from?
One of the ways that Switzerland can reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas is by asking other countries to sell them the same products. Though Russia is the third-largest oil-producing country in the world after the US and Saudi Arabia, there are also many other options available for Switzerland, when it comes to importing fossil fuels.
Approximately 40 percent of Switzerland’s gas comes from Russia, while most of the oil and petroleum products Switzerland buys are purchased from Germany and the Netherlands (though both countries actually import the fuel from Russia too).
Switzerland could choose to follow the United States’ suggestions to import oil from elsewhere, including places such as Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Ethically, many people take issue with these suggestions, stating that punishing Russia should not push Switzerland into the arms of other nations with questionable human rights records.
Aside from moral concerns, there are also practical issues with this. Most of these countries, especially Saudi Arabia, specialise in producing heavy crude oil, that Swiss refineries are not yet prepared to refine. In the long term, this is also not a sustainable solution, with politicians and activists in Europe pushing for a step away from fossil fuels altogether.
How can Switzerland move away from using gas and oil?
Switzerland has already announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, but the recent energy crisis has only encouraged many of the country’s politicians to focus on making Switzerland self-sufficient. For years, Swiss cantons have been attempting to prevent the installation of any more oil-fuelled heaters and have encouraged people to instal heat pumps instead.
Another shift away from oil and petroleum products can be seen in the automotive industry, with many people choosing to buy electric cars that do not require petrol or diesel. Switching to using public transport and cycling for short journeys instead of driving can also cut the amount of oil imported into Switzerland.
What can people in Switzerland do to reduce their energy consumption?
As Switzerland transitions away from Russian gas and finds its own alternative sources of energy, in the meantime, we can all do our bit to reduce energy consumption. Whether it be to support Ukraine in this time of crisis or help Switzerland move away from fossil fuels, a small change at home can make a big difference.
Turning down the heating by just one degree could help Europe step away from relying on imports of Russian gas, according to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency. The move would also reduce the cost of home utilities. Of course, this will not be practical for everyone but could save you a pretty penny, especial if the weather is hot.
Other things that use gas include generating electricity for things like lighting, using communications devices such as mobile phones and even wi-fi. Of course, many of these things are needed for our day-to-day lives, meaning we cannot simply stop using them. However, simple tricks like hanging your washing outside to dry rather than using a tumble dryer if the weather permits, or turning off lights when you leave a room can make a huge difference.
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