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Harsh winter could force Europe to ration gas, warns world energy leader


Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said on Tuesday he was warning European leaders to create contingency plans in case harsh winter conditions force countries to conserve natural gas.

“I’m afraid I can’t rule out the risk this winter that we will face gas rationing,” Birol said in an interview at the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of global business leaders in Davos. “I advise several European governments to prepare an emergency plan.”

Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia supplied almost 40% of the European Union’s gas supply and 55% of Germany’s. “Europe is paying for its overdependence on Russian energy,” Birol said.

The European Union’s plan to declare an embargo on Russian oil, which is the world’s third largest producer of crude, has met with stiff resistance from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. A gas embargo has so far been taken off the table.

German leaders, in particular, have warned that an immediate gas cut would catapult their country’s economy – Europe’s largest – into recession.

A gas embargo would force some industrial sites to close, said Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice-chancellor and economy minister, on Monday.

“We always have to ask ourselves if the actions we take are hurting Putin more or hurting ourselves more,” he said. “If there is a global recession or a recession in Germany, then who will help Ukraine?”

A mild winter in Europe would reduce global gas demand, as would continued Covid-related lockdowns in China, which is the world’s largest gas consumer.

Birol urged leaders to step up their efforts to promote energy conservation. Simple measures such as lowering thermostats a few degrees would save a significant amount of gas, as would retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, he added.

Frans Timmermans, a European Commission official leading green energy initiatives, echoed those sentiments Tuesday during an energy panel in Davos.

Since Russia can no longer be relied upon to supply fossil fuels, Mr Timmermans said, “we have to do much better in saving energy.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Somini Sengupta contributed report.

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