Europe's leaders need to create back-up plans in case harsh winter weather forces countries to conserve natural gas, Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), warned on Tuesday.
"I'm afraid that I cannot exclude the risk this winter that we are facing a rationing of gas," Mr Birol said during an interview at the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of global business leaders in Davos, Switzerland. "I'm advising several European governments to prepare a contingency plan."
Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia had provided nearly 40 per cent of the European Union's gas supply and 55 per cent of Germany's.
"Europe is paying for its overdependence on Russian energy," Mr Birol said. Planning by the European Union to declare an embargo of oil from Russia, which is the world's third-largest producer of crude, has met 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 cutoff of gas would catapult their country’s economy – the largest in Europe – into a recession.
A mild winter in Europe would reduce global demand for gas, as would continued Covid-related lockdowns in China, which is the world's largest consumer of gas.
Mr Birol urged leaders to step up their efforts to promote energy conservation. Simple steps such as turning down thermostats by a few degrees would save a significant amount of gas, as would renovating buildings to make them more energy efficient, he added.
Frans Timmermans, a European Commission official leading green energy initiatives, echoed those sentiments on Tuesday at an energy panel at Davos. Given that Russia can no longer be relied on to provide fossil fuel, Mr Timmermans said, "we need to do much better on energy savings".
Separately, billionaire financier George Soros said on Tuesday that Russia's invasion of Ukraine may have been the beginning of the third World War so the best way to preserve free civilisation is for the West to defeat President Vladimir Putin's forces.
Mr Soros (91), a legendary hedge fund manager who earned fame by betting against the pound in 1992, cast the Ukraine war as part of a broader struggle between open societies and closed societies such as China and Russia which are in the ascent. “The invasion may have been the beginning of the third World War and our civilization may not survive it,” Mr Soros told delegates in Davos, according to a text of his speech released by his office.
"The best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible. That's the bottom line." – New York Times/Reuters