How soaring energy prices are complicating the fight against global warming

In the United States, rising gasoline prices — currently averaging $3.40 a gallon, a dollar higher than a year ago — have weighed on President Biden’s approval ratings, who is struggling to persuade Congress to pass climate policies aimed at reducing fossil fuels. fuel emissions. At the same time, the Biden administration has defended the decision to issue new oil and gas permits on public lands, though those efforts have been stalled by federal courts.

But high oil prices aren’t always bad news for clean energy. They can also lower the demand for oil, for example by pushing people to buy electric vehicles that do not require gasoline. Last year, electric cars accounted for 20% of all new sales in Europe and 15% of new sales in China, according to BloombergNEFa research group.

In recent months, the world has grappled with soaring prices for natural gas, a fuel used in both power plants and home heating, which has had repercussions around the world. Utility bills have soared from Italy to South Korea, while fertilizer factories in Britain and Germany have had to cut operations. (Natural gas is a key ingredient in nitrogen-based fertilizers.)

The causes of the gas crisis are numerous: global demand has rebounded faster than supply since the start of the pandemic; the drop in production from hydroelectric dams in China and Brazil has led to a sharp increase in gas imports; a cold spell last spring across Europe increased demand and reduced gas stocks.

The crisis is particularly acute in Europe, where natural gas prices are now five times higher than a year ago. Authorities are rushing to secure new overseas gas shipments in case Russia, which supplies a third of Europe’s natural gas, cuts its supplies in the event of a dispute over Ukraine.

There are also signs that the gas crisis could undermine unity within the European Union on climate change policies.

Officials are currently debating a sweeping new set of clean energy measures aimed at reducing emissions by 2030. Some countries, such as Spain, have called for a faster shift away from fossil fuels to reduce people’s exposure. Europe to the gas markets. But others, like Poland, called for delaying tougher climate action in the midst of the crisis.

Teresa H. Sadler