The East Mediterranean can enhance Europe’s energy security and reduce its dependence on Russian gas. Regional countries are strongly positioned to face oncoming challenges in the global energy markets and efficiently deliver on the European continent’s gas demands.
Egypt is well-situated to increase its gas exports to Europe, but one major constraint is that European countries either lack LNG terminals or existing terminals have a limited capacity to receive supplies. It is thus imperative for European countries to upgrade existing terminals or construct new ones to expand their capacity to receive LNG.
Egypt Dominates the Region’s Energy Successes
New gas findings in Egypt can turn into commercial discoveries that will be transported to Europe. The discovery of Nargis-1 exploration well, co-owned by American Chevron and Italian ENI in the Nargis Offshore Area Concession, is estimated to contain almost 200 net feet (61 m) of Miocene and Oligocene gas. Also important, German Wintershall Dea made a new gas discovery within the Disouq concession in the onshore Nile Delta region that has been tested at a peak production of 15 million cubic feet of gas per day.
Egypt has almost 2.21 trillion cubic meters of proven gas reserves, and it produced more than 95 billion cubic meters in 2021, with exports exceeding 12 billion cubic meters annually.
With an eye to regional energy cooperation that will benefit Europe, Egypt prioritized the demarcation of maritime boundaries with countries like Greece and Cyprus, aiming to extract greater volumes of regional gas through joint exploration and to link national pipelines. This is evidenced in the letter and spirit of the partial delimitation agreement that was signed between Egypt and Greece in August 2020.
According to Article 2 of the agreement “in case there are natural resources, including hydrocarbons reservoirs, extending from the Exclusive Economic Zone of one Party to the Exclusive Economic Zone of the other, the two Parties shall cooperate in order to reach an agreement on the modalities of the exploitation of such resources”. Overall, the Egypt-Greece demarcation agreement has created a positive precedent for other regional countries to emulate.
The Euro-Africa Interconnector, labeled as Project of Common Interest by the EU, supports Egyptian and Greek aspirations to become major energy hubs for Southeast Europe. The project aims to transport by a subsea cable renewable electricity generated in Egypt and other African countries through Greece to Europe. Already, Egypt has completed interconnection projects with Libya, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia.
Greece: An Active Player in Europe’s Energy Transformation
Greece is exploring ways to bring regional gas to Europe, as the proposed East Mediterranean Gas Pipeline may prove technically challenging and thus less likely to materialize. Athens accelerated efforts to execute projects of regional and European interest like the Euro Asia Interconnector, a key infrastructure project that links the grids of Israel, Cyprus and Greece with the European power grid delivering up to 2000 megawatts of energy and thus enhancing European energy security. Nexans, a global player in energy transition, has been recently awarded a contract valued at 1,6 billion dollars for the section of the Euro Asia Interconnector that will connect Cyprus to Greece via a subsea cable that will cross ultra-deep waters of over 3,000 meters.
Greece also pays high importance to other infrastructure projects, including an onshore 28-kilometer gas transmission pipeline that connects the National Gas Transmission System to the Alexandroupolis Floating Storage and Regasification Unit in northern Greece, through which 5.5 bcm of gas per year will be funneled to the Balkans and to Southeast Europe. Deliveries of 28 kilometres of pipes were completed in May 2023 by Corinth Pipeworks that was awarded a contract by Saipem S.p.A for the development of the offshore and onshore gas pipeline by Gastrade. An additional infrastructure project, with Greece at its epicenter, that will form the European Hydrogen backbone is the construction of a 160-kilometer gas pipeline in western Macedonia that can transport up to 100 percent hydrogen.
Regarding hydrocarbon exploration, the Greek government has compiled an action plan that centers on the completion of seismic surveys and drilling at the offshore blocks in the Ionian Sea and south of Crete, already conceded to oil majors. The Hellenic Hydrocarbon Resources Management Authority has identified more than 30 maritime blocks with a total estimated quantity of recoverable gas ranging between 2 and 2.55 trillion cubic meters. Significant volumes of gas, once extracted from Greek maritime blocks, will be funneled to Europe.
Israel’s Energy Independence Creates Opportunities
Israel, for its part, can export to Europe surplus gas of approximately 500 billion cubic meters (bcm) over the next two decades. Notably, Israel has achieved energy independence over the last years that created a shield against the energy crisis which was triggered by the war on Ukraine. Israel therefore accelerates efforts to identify new gas discoveries by offering 20 new exploration blocks in the context of its 4th International Offshore Licensing Round. As announced recently by Israel’s ministry of Energy, four consortia of companies submitted bids to obtain licenses for gas exploration within Israeli waters.
The Israeli aim lies in increasing gas volumes for export to third markets. According to the Israeli perspective, the war on Ukraine provides a golden opportunity for regional countries that are not aligned with radical Islam to produce and jointly funnel gas to Europe. The latter can also help regional countries come together and draft long-term energy cooperation agreements that will benefit the economies of all involved.
The Turkish dimension cannot be ignored in Israel’s regional calculations. The construction of a pipeline to transport Israeli gas to Turkey could help the latter diversify energy resources, especially considering that contracts with Russia and Iran will expire within the next four years. Even though the Turkey-Israel pipeline is technically, and financially feasible, political considerations have so far impeded its execution, namely Ankara’s regional revisionism and unpredictability towards Israel. Noteworthy, Turkey seeks to import East Mediterranean gas to meet its increasing domestic needs rather than export it to Europe.
Challenges and Policy Recommendations
Overall, there are several solutions to upgrading the supply of energy from the East Mediterranean to Europe, thus enhancing the latter’s energy security. Skepticism, however, prevails in European political circles regarding the likelihood of Libya as a feasible energy supply option for Europe, despite the low extraction cost of Libyan gas and oil compared to other East Mediterranean countries. The highly unstable situation in Libya is the prime factor impeding European energy operators from engaging with Libyan authorities.
It is with no doubt that East Mediterranean countries must be locked into a broader European strategy that provides a win-win situation by which cooperation profits every party. To this end, Egypt should expand its capacity for processing and exporting LNG to Europe, not only to offset a sharp decrease in gas imports from Russia, but also to increase revenues of the Egyptian state budget.
Hydrogen and renewables can prove to be game changers in the next two decades for Europe. It is in this context that Greece should swiftly proceed with cementing its energy partnership with Saudi Arabia so that Athens can facilitate massive imports of hydrogen from the Saudi Neom region to Europe.
Israel should explore the possibility of a floating LNG terminal in Israeli waters, as this option is feasible now that, due to the Israel-Lebanon demarcation agreement, the threat of naval escalation between the two countries has passed.
Evidently, East Mediterranean countries namely Egypt, Greece and Israel played an early role in reducing European dependence on Russian energy and can potentially play a larger role through coordinated efforts to becoming credible gas suppliers to Europe. It is in the hands of the three East Mediterranean countries to establish a rock-solid energy partnership that will benefit all.
Courtesy: Modern Diplomacy
Russia’s Nuclear Diplomacy Falls Behind Expectations in Africa
Endowed with huge natural resources, Africa is comparatively the least developed region in this world. In the current context of global crisis, at least Russia struggling to maintain its image on the stage. Some African leaders are more concerned to be at the receiving end, while others are prioritizing development and improving welfare for their impoverished population.
Sometimes, it is difficult to understand the level of development despite the colossal resources in Africa. That development can only be raised with foreign participation. With that presumption, African leaders seemingly have that sentimental edge attitude for symbolism and the desire for group photos at international conferences and summits even if such gatherings offer little or nothing tangible for their national economic development. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting of BRICS leaders with delegation heads from invited African states and chairs of international associations on 27 July, 2018, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Those invited included the leaders of African countries, namely, Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The meeting was also attended by the heads of Argentina (then chair of the G20), Turkey (then chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and Jamaica (then chair of the Caribbean Community).
Before the meeting, there was a joint photo session. Speaking at that grand high-level meeting, Putin told the African leaders, with confidence, that “Africa is one of the world’s most rapidly developing regions.”
“Russia has always given priority to the development of relations with African countries, based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual assistance,” he said, and along the line in the powerful and arousing speech, added that Russia would help to overcome energy shortages and deep-seated deficits across Africa.
Without much doubts, Russia is noted for an excellent diplomacy. As always, African leaders gave an ear-deafening applause. Russia is ready to do everything in various sectors in Africa has been the policy chorus down these years since the collapse of the Soviet era in 1991, and African leaders respectfully show high excitement at such phrases.
Putin underscored the fact in the nuclear power industry, where Russia is a technological leader, offers several African partners the creation of an entire industry on a turnkey basis. Agreements on cooperation in the field of atoms for peace have been signed with a number of countries in the region, while in some of them the work has acquired a practical dimension. Joint efforts are being taken to implement the agreements reached in a number of spheres.
“All these projects will be of strategic importance for Africa, where, according to different estimates, as many as 600 million people still live without electricity,” he told African leaders.
Quite recently in March 2023, Putin spoke at the international parliamentary conference Russia – Africa in a Multipolar World, held in Moscow under the auspices of the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly. In fact, one key question that featured in the speech that “Rosatom is already building a nuclear power plant in Egypt and plans to expand its involvement in the development of national energy systems in the African continent. I would like to note that significant, in some countries 100-percent funding is provided by Russia.”
The partnership between Russia and African countries has gained additional momentum and is reaching a whole new level. With South Africa, the agreement for the large scale nuclear power plant (NPP) development was initially signed during the International Atomic Energy Agency General (IAEAG) Conference in Vienna between Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation director general Sergey Kirienko and South Africa’s Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Accroding to Power Technology media report, Kirienko said: “I am convinced in cooperation with Russia, South Africa will gain all necessary competencies for the implementation of this large-scale national nuclear energy development programme. Rosatom seeks to create in South Africa a full-scale nuclear cluster of a world leader’s level – from the front-end of nuclear fuel cycle up to engineering and power equipment manufacturing.”
For the last twenty years, South Africa has not been able to make investments in new power plants, which has resulted in a severe power crunch. Kirienko observed: “In future this will allow to implement joint nuclear power projects in Africa and other third countries. But from the very start this cooperation will be guided at providing the conditions for creation of thousands of new jobs and placing of a considerable order to local industrial enterprises worth, at least, $10 billion.”
Long before that African leaders’ meeting at BRICS in Johannesburg, South African parliament overturned and blocked nuclear power agreement signed by Jacob Zuma in the Kremlin, after talks with Vladimir Putin. South Africa, until today, has had huge problems with power supply for both domestic and industrial utilization. Generally power outrages still a huge and real constraint to industrial growth in South Africa and across Africa.
Corruption that hollowed out Eskom’s coffers under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, lack of plant maintenance and sabotage were blamed for South Africa’s electricity crisis. South Africans have become hardened to crippling blackouts, this is inflicting a massive hit on the economy. Credible reports said the government spent $1.6 billion from the budget for diesel purchases this year alone. Eskom’s colossal debt, still equivalent to $23 billion.
According to research sources, main reason why the 2015 nuclear power agreement thrown out by the South Africa’s parliament, it was an opaque unilateral deal with Moscow. South African pact with Russia’s Rosatom to build nuclear reactors was deemed unlawful by a High Court in April 2017. The Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and Earthlife Africa-Johannesburg had jointly filed the court application to stop the nuclear program.
Both the Russian government and the administration of South African president Jacob Zuma put pressure on the South African government to force through the deal by attempting to circumvent South Africa’s procurement laws. The Russian government offered to build and operate up to eight nuclear power plants at a cost of R1 trillion ($66 billion).
South Africa and Russia signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) in 2014 that sealed a cooperation pact between state-owned nuclear group Rosatom and state-owned utility Eskom. There were external tenders, for example the United States, South Korea, China and France, but Jacob Zuma, without consulting his cabinet and parliament, used his close-friendship to sign the deal with Putin. As a result, Pravin Gordhan then Finance Minister was fired partly because he resisted pressured by a faction allied to Jacob Zuma to back nuclear expansion.
With Arab Republic of Egypt in North Africa, it has been in the works for several years and has a chequered history. Egypt has been considering the use of nuclear energy for decades. The Nuclear Power Plants Authority [NPPA] was established in 1976, and in 1983 the El Dabaa site on the Mediterranean coast was selected.
With over 100 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa, popular referred to as Maghreb region and part of the Arab World. Egypt is the third most populous country after Nigeria and Ethiopia in Africa. About half of Egypt’s residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centers of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities along the Nile Delta. Therefore, Egypt needs sufficient energy to drive its industries and for domestic utilization.
Egypt’s nuclear plans, however, were shelved after the Chernobyl accident. But, in 2006, Egypt announced it would revive its civilian nuclear power program, and build a 1,000 MW nuclear power station at El Dabaa. Its estimated cost, at the time, was $12.5 billion, and the plans were to do the construction with the help of foreign investors. In March 2008, Egypt signed an agreement with Russia on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Rosatom has shown interest not only Egypt but many other countries in Africa. Over the past two decades, at least, it has signed agreements that promised construction of nuclear energy plants and training of specialists for these countries. Director General, Alexey Likhachev, emphasized these points at the first Russia-Africa summit that Rosatom has already been cooperating with more than 20 African countries, in particular, building the largest “El-Dabaa” NPP in Egypt with an installed capacity of 4.8 GW. The total cost of construction fixed at $30 billion.
After these several negotiations and re-negotiations since 2015, Russia re-signed the contract for the nuclear construction during the first Russia-Africa summit. Then after that…three years of waiting, Russia finally in 2022 granted a loan $25 billion for the construction of the nuclear power plant which covers 85% of the work. The remaining expenses will be covered by the Egyptian side by attracting private investors. Under the agreement, Egypt is to start payments on the loan, which is provided at 3% per annum, from October 2029.
According to reports, Russia has also signed for such construction of nuclear plants with a number of African countries but yet to begin implementing its side of the agreements. These include agreements with Algeria (2014), Ghana (2015), Ethiopia (2019), Republic of Congo (2019), Nigeria (2012, 2016), Rwanda (2018), South Africa (2004), Sudan (2017), Tunisia (2016), Uganda (2019) and Zambia (2016). Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) were signed with Kenya in 2016 and Morocco in 2017.
At the last international parliamentary conference ‘Russia – Africa in a Multipolar World’ held in March 2023, under the auspices of the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly, Putin indicated in his speech that “Russia is offering new environmentally friendly technologies, primarily in nuclear energy. Rosatom is already building a nuclear power plant in Egypt and plans to expand its involvement in the development of the national energy systems of the African continent. And that Russia, in some countries, would provide 100-percent funding of these nuclear projects.”
Ryan Collyer,the Regional Vice-President of Rosatom for Sub-Saharan Africa, told this author that energy (construction and repair of power generation facilities as well as in peaceful nuclear energy and the use of renewable energy sources) is an important area of the economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.
Collyer further explained that a nuclear power program is a complex undertaking that requires meticulous planning, preparation, and investment in time, institutions, and human resources. The development of such a program does not happen overnight and can take several years to implement.
According to his explanation, another critical question is the cost. Most of the funds are needed to during the construction period. Building a large-scale nuclear reactor takes thousands of workers, massive amounts of steel and concrete, thousands of components, and several systems to provide electricity, cooling, ventilation, information, control and communication.
Way Out – Other Energy Alternatives
Knox Msebenzi, Managing Director of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA), a body committed to promoting the highest standards in the development and application of nuclear technology, in discussing the impact of challenges on the country’s economy and a way out of the power generation difficulties, recommended that South Africa pursue an energy mix that includes coal, wind, hydro-power, nuclear and renewables going forward.
There are no silver bullets when it comes to energy sources generally across Africa. Criticisms of nuclear relating to costs and project managements (long delays with huge projects) are being addressed with Small Modular Reactors. Nuclear power will not come online today as it takes time to implement, but countries do not plan for now but for the future.
Msebenzi also told me during our discussion that foreign players would invariably be attracted by commercial interests. Manufacturers of renewable energy equipment overseas are already pushing to sell their goods and services. Nuclear vendors are also very keen to participate in the South African nuclear bid and this can be a gateway to the rest of the continent. Not only is it my view that an all-inclusive energy mix is imperative, but African governments must recognise these as well if they wanted durable and sustainable solution to energy crisis.
Most of these post-Soviet years, Russia’s growing opacity, agreement clouded in secrecy which features in its policy is seriously affecting its image inside Africa. That however, it has been pushing nuclear technology to African nations both to turn a profit and to expand its political might on the continent. It has until now several bilateral agreements signed.
From Dependence on Fossil Fuels to Dependence on Critical Raw Materials
The conflict in Ukraine was a rude awakening for Europe. Europe became aware of its vulnerabilities in the energy sector. Dependence on Russian gas had a profound impact on the economies of European countries, with energy costs beginning to soar in 2021. This trend was amplified by the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Sanctions against Russia had an important economic and social impact, but Europe could find alternative sources of gas supply, in particular American LNG.
However, another far more serious type of dependence is around the corner. Critical raw materials (CRMs) are not only essential to our daily lives but also to our national security and defense. They are critical owing to :
– their economic importance in strategic sectors
– their supply chain risks
– great complexity to substitute them
What’s more, their recycling rate is sometimes very low, especially for rare earths. Geographical constraints have to be taken into account too. Indeed, the oil and gas markets are determined by their plurality and diversity of players. For example, OPEC has 13 member countries, to which must be added 10 other OPEC+ member countries. However, the situation is completely different for critical raw materials. In fact, the CRM market is characterized by the small number of producing players, leading to quasi-monopolies or even monopolies for some of them. Thus, in the event of shortages or export restrictions, CRM supply could prove complex due to the small number of players involved.
In its 2023 report, the European Commission states that China is the main supplier of 21 CRMs, in particular rare earths, gallium, natural graphite, germanium… It implies that there are sometimes no other supplier countries than China, even though these materials are essential to the energy transition and to sectors such as national defense. These CRMs take on a strategic character when they are destined for the defense, digital or renewable energy sectors. The geopolitical factor could pose a threat in the event of serious tensions or conflict with Beijing. It’s worth remembering that in September 2010, during a dispute with Japan in the China Sea, China suspended its exports of rare earths to the latter in order to put pressure and to obtain the release of a trawler captain. Europe, handicapped by its low CRM production, is not immune to Chinese retaliatory measures, and may be the collateral victim of the trade war between the United States and China. On July 3, 2023, China decided to impose restrictions on gallium and germanium exports from August onwards. This is clearly a retaliatory measure against Washington’s policy of blacklisting numerous Chinese companies in order to restrict semiconductor exports to China and prevent it from gaining access to American technologies. Europe will be impacted by China’s decision, as both minerals are considered critical by the European Union.
Access to CRMs is already crucial in a context of energy transition, whereas their need is expected to increase sharply. For example, the need for natural graphite is set to increase 25-fold by 2040. Graphite is essential to the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, as it is a vital component of the battery anode. The same applies, to varying degrees, to all CRMs. Will global production be able to increase sufficiently to meet the growing needs of the energy transition? Will Europe be able to catch up and avoid even greater dependence on renewable energies?
The main threat in the CRM field is Chinese. Beijing recognized the importance of CRMs very early and built a long-term strategy around them. It has gradually built up an ecosystem around critical raw materials and rare earths, and now controls the entire CRM value chain.
The criticality of CRMs is not only linked to whether or not countries have mining resources. However essential it may be to have these ressources, it is not enough to control the entire value chain for critical minerals. Mastery of the various mineral processing technologies is also essential. With the possible depletion of resources combined with a sharp rise in demand for CRMs, competition for access to mines and mastery of the various refining and processing stages will be crucial issues in the future. This is an additional problem for Europe. Not only does Europe have few mining and production sites, but it is also completely dominated by China when it comes to processing and refining.
What’s more, long before Europe, China realized that it was essential to secure its CRM supplies, as it could not produce all the materials it needed. So, some twenty years ago, it began to implement a investment policy in foreign countries. This strategy was reinforced in 2015 with the introduction of the Made in China 2025 plan, which aimed to make China a manufacturing superpower in ten industrial sectors, including batteries for electric cars, thereby boosting Chinese international investment, particularly (but not only) in cobalt and lithium mines. Thus, the South African Institute of International Affairs estimates that China invested around $58 billion between 2005 and 2017 in the mining and energy sectors alone in Sub-Saharan Africa.
China’s strategy revolves around acquisitions, taking stakes in mines or providing infrastructure in exchange for exploiting raw materials. This has enabled Beijing to secure its supply of minerals essential to new technologies, and give it an even more dominant position in the world market. To assert its dominance in CRMs, China uses state-owned or private companies close to the Chinese Communist Party. In addition, China has relocated its processing industries, which in just a few decades has enabled the country to go from being a simple rare earths producer to become the world’s leading supplier of permanent magnets.
Cobalt and lithium are perfect examples of China’s strategy. Firstly, cobalt is indispensable in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries of all kinds. It improves the performance of batteries used in smartphones, connected objects and laptops, and plays an important role in electric vehicles. The Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s leading cobalt producer, has been the target of Chinese investment in the country’s mining sector, and 15 of the country’s 19 cobalt-producing mines are now owned by Chinese companies. China’s strategy has proved successful, in particular with the purchase in 2016 of US group Freeport-Mc Moran’s shares in the Tenke Fungurume cobalt and copper mine by China Molybdenum Company (CMOC) for $2.65 billion. China also has a stranglehold on cobalt refining. It has doubled its refining capacity to 140,000 tons by 2022, compared with just 40,000 tons in the rest of the world. What is more, despite a number of disputes with the Congolese state, CMOC is set to begin cobalt production in the Kisanfu mine, which is expected to become the world’s largest cobalt mine, with an announced output of 30,000 tons a year.
China’s dominance also extends to lithium. Beijing now refines 60% of the world’s lithium on its own soil, and controls 60% of global battery component manufacturing. Moreover, of the 200 mega-battery factories planned worldwide by 2030, some will be in Europe and the USA, but 148 will be in China. The paradox is that China produces only 16% of the world’s lithium, but refines two-thirds of the world’s production on its own territory, enabling it to produce 75% of the world’s lithium batteries. To do so, it uses its acquisitions or stakes in mines in Chile, Bolivia, Australia and, more recently, Argentina. Two Chinese companies, Tianqi and Ganfeng, control a third of lithium’s world production. Several African countries, in particular Zimbabwe and more recently Mali, have also been targeted by Beijing. This strengthening of China’s position in lithium will enable Beijing to become a hegemonic player in the production of batteries and electric cars, to the detriment of Europe, which is lagging far behind but has nonetheless woken up.
European countries cannot compete on equal terms with China in the field of CRMs. China is not bound by European environmental standards, which hinder the opening of mines for the extraction and production of CRMS. It should be remembered that activities linked to rare earths and other critical materials, mainly the extraction, separation and production stages, have an extremely negative impact on the environment due to the pollution generated and the high consumption of water and energy. The problem of social acceptability is therefore extremely serious and needs to be taken into account. There are plans to open mines in Sweden, Portugal and France, but will they see the light of day, or will they be abandoned in the face of the emergence of increasingly violent environmental movements? In other countries, such as China, there is little debate about environmental standards. As a reminder, in the 80s, France refined 50% of the rare earths market at its Rhône Poulenc site in La Rochelle. But media and social pressure at the time led to the closure of the site, and China took over the refining activities. More recently, Rio Tinto’s Jadar project in Serbia was finally abandoned due to strong public opposition. For the time being, fears for the environment remain strongest, despite Europe’s urgent need to remedy its shortcomings in CRMs. Today, Europe is increasingly dependent on China and time is an additional obstacle for Europe. Even if mines were allowed to open in order to extract and produce critical minerals, it would take at least ten years from the discovery of a vein to the opening and the start of mining operations. What’s more, the closure of mines in Europe has resulted in a loss of skilled manpower that will take a long time to replenish.
However, it would be wrong to say that Europe is unaware of its CRM dependency problems. In 2008, the European Commission set up the Raw Materials Initiative to assess European dependency and plan a strategy for diversifying supplies. Several reports were subsequently published by this institution, analyzing Europe’s CRM requirements between 2011 and 2023. In the meantime, the number of CRMs studied has risen from 14 in 2011 to 30 in 2020, due in part to renewed international tensions and the emphasis on energy transition. But the new centerpiece of the European strategy was unveiled on March 16, 2023 with the Critical Raw Materials Act, which aims to secure critical materials supply chains in order to preserve Europe’s strategic autonomy in a much-deteriorated international geopolitical context with the war in Ukraine and growing rivalry between China and the USA. According to the Critical Raw Materials Act, objectives to be achieved by 2030 are as follows:
- At least 10% of the EU’s annual consumption for extraction,
- At least 40% of the EU’s annual consumption for processing,
- At least 15% of the EU’s annual consumption for recycling,
- Not more than 65% of the Union’s annual consumption of each strategic raw material at any relevant stage of processing from a single third country.
We can therefore observe a desire to build an industrial ecosystem around CRM with all segments of the value chain. The emphasis is on processing and refining activities rather than extraction. Nevertheless, environmental constraints remain, and the development of mining activity is proving delicate and complex to implement. What is more, the European effort on refining may not be enough to compete efficiently with China. Beijing has invested massively in refining-related research, and also exercises dominance in the field of patents. Thus, since 2014, China has been responsible for nearly 80% of patents for rare earth refining worldwide, and around 60% for titanium and manganese.
Europe prefers to focus on recycling, but this is technologically complex and subject to the financial factor of profitability. What’s more, the recycling rate for rare earths is extremely low as it is estimated at 1% on average. Solutions have already been envisaged in the past. In 2012, Solvay developed a system for recycling the rare earths found in low-energy light bulbs. This was at a time when their price was very high due to the crisis between China and Japan. But in 2016, prices fell again, and the French company’s process was discontinued as it was insufficiently profitable.
In the lithium battery sector, however, things are moving more quickly. Several recycling plants have been set up in Scandinavia, including Fortum in Finland and Stena Recycling in Sweden. Both plants claim to be able to recycle 95% of the materials found in batteries. In addition, a gigafactory project by Glencore and Canadian company Li-Cycle should see the light of day in Italy in a few years’ time.
However, it should not be forgotten that recycling is not sufficient to replace the extraction and processing of CRMs. The first reason has to do with the sustainability of the products used in the energy transition. Electric batteries currently have a lifespan of around ten years, while wind turbines have a lifespan of around 30 years. As a result, it takes many years before they can be recycled. What’s more, the rate of growth in demand for CRMs is extremely high, and far outstrips the possibilities of recycling.
Innovation could be one of the solutions to decreasing the need for CRMs and thus reducing dependence on Beijing. This requires the development of research projects to encourage innovation. One example is the French government, which, as part of its France 2030 plan, launched a research program in January 2023 to develop twelve projects with the Scientific Research National Center (CNRS) and the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). One of the projects focuses on sodium-ion battery technology, which could greatly reduce our dependence on China for critical raw minerals. This new type of battery should start being produced in northern France by the Tiamat company as early as 2025. However, even though substitution can both reduce European dependence on China and the price of CRMs in certain areas such as electric vehicles, it is important to note that this is often at the expense of performance. For instance, sodium-ion and lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries have so far had a shorter range than lithium-ion batteries. Moreover, substitution is not possible in strategic industries. These include defense and national security, where lower performance can’t be afforded. Civil and military industries have different needs and different performance requirements. It will therefore be extremely difficult for European countries to shake off their dependence on China when it comes to national security. In the event of geopolitical tensions with China, Europe could be impacted by sharp price rises for some CRMs, or even a shortage if Beijing again decides to restrict or halt the export of some of them. But, European countries need CRMs to preserve their national security, whatever the cost may be.
Despite all the measures recently announced with the Raw Critical Materials Act, Europe will have to find alternatives to recycling in order to secure its CRM supply chain. Similarly, more resources will have to be allocated to innovation. Thanks to an effective strategy pursued over the past twenty years, China has succeeded in mastering the entire value chain for many CRMs, even those for which it had little or no domestic supply. Europe has been warned and is faced with a difficult choice in which the strategic stakes are likely to come up against environmental standards. Opening mines, however polluting they may be, will be essential but not sufficient. Europe will have to be much more active in obtaining more equity stakes in mines situated in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Brussels practices friendshoring and has partnerships with countries with which it shares the same democratic values (Australia for lithium, for example). But that won’t be enough. Partnerships with other countries will have to be considered, even if human rights are not respected there. Plurality and diversity of partners will be essential for Europe. If we are to survive in an increasingly hostile environment, with an increasingly powerful and uncompromising China, we will have to make difficult choices to cope with possible shortages of CRMs, for which Beijing would have a hegemonic position. If we don’t or can’t, so we’re in for a rude awakening.
Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine on Global Energy Situation
Russia and Ukraine are major players in the global energy markets, in fact Russia is one of the world’s top three crude oil producers. It is the second largest producer of natural gas in the world with largest gas reserves, making it the largest gas and oil exporter as well. Hence, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the global energy situation which was already volatile due to post-lockdown energy demand exceeding supply. Oil and gas prices have reached their highest levels in almost a decade as a result of this geopolitical turmoil, prompting several nations to reevaluate their energy supply and policies. The impact was greatest between December 2021 and June 2022 as energy costs increased by 58.3%. Since the invasion, oil and gas were continued to be transported from Russia to Europe, even through the pipelines that cross Ukraine. This energy crisis has significantly benefitted Russia and other oil and gas producing states.
This essay endeavors to analyze the impact of this geopolitical conflict on global energy security, followed by a brief overview on how the concerned countries are moving away from their dependence on Russia. In the end, it shall also cover some future possibilities, recommendations, and its implications towards the clean energy goals.
The European Union, United States and other parties have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, along with their plans to gradually wean themselves off of Russia’s fossil fuels. However, despite the fact that Russia is bombarding Ukraine with bombs, its gas and oil are still being exported to Western countries that have denounced the invasion.
Impact on Europe
The European Union imports 90% of its natural gas needs, 41% of which originates from Russia. The EU also imports 46% of its coal and 27% of its oil from Russia. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the supply of Russian oil and gas entering Europe has risen sharply. In March alone, Europe sent over €22 billion (US$24 billion) to Russia for oil and gas. Since the beginning of April, Russia’s imports have costed Europe at least €1 billion daily. Physical gas supplies were only cut off in late June as a result of Russia’s decision to reject supplies to nations like Finland, which has asked for NATO membership, and to Bulgaria and Poland, both of which refuse to pay in Roubles.
In each of these cases, the little supplies that were depleted were rapidly restored. But on July 11, Russia also shut down the important NordStream 1 pipeline for scheduled repair, potentially cutting off Germany’s supply by as much as 60%. If Russia chooses not to revive the pipeline, it will be more challenging to replace those supplies. Berlin’s government has accelerated the execution of the next stage of its emergency response plan due to the risk. But as nations put their plans into action to diversify their energy supplies and lessen the influx of Russian oil and gas, things may alter in the upcoming months. By the end of the year, Poland, for instance, will stop importing any Russian coal, gas, or oil, while Austria and Germany are building the framework for gas rationing. Germany, which imports more than one-third of its oil and more than half of its natural gas and coal, is one country where the energy problem is particularly severe.
Germany’s immediate issue is to lessen its dependence on natural gas in the electricity generation sector, a task made more difficult by the nation’s decision to abandon nuclear energy, as its final three nuclear power plants are set to shut down this year. Following February 24, price hikes of 60% for oil and a startling 400% for natural gas have been seen in Europe over the previous year because of the anticipation that western economic sanctions and Russian reprisal would restrict trade and ignite a fierce competition for existing supplies. Oil supplies can still be managed because Russian crude oil shipments can still reach receptive customers in Asia and Africa, but manipulating the natural gas market is more difficult because it is dependent on specific infrastructure like liquefaction plants and pipelines. Putin is keen to take advantage of the geopolitical weakness that Europe’s energy security challenge presents.
Impact on United States
The US imports very little energy from Russia and is a net exporter of fossil fuels. Therefore, the US’s decision to restrict energy imports from Russia has no effect on the country’s energy security.
Disruption of Supply Chain
The immediate disruption of the logistical supply chains of oil and gas to Europe as a result of the damage of infrastructure in both Russia and Ukraine is more significant than in Russia. The energy supply has been disrupted by Russia’s siege of Ukraine’s largest cities, bombardment of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, and intentional destruction of vital assets. Following the battle, shipping products in the Black Sea region has greatly increased in difficulty and cost, particularly as a result of the shutdown of all Ukrainian ports.
Impact on other Global Players
Given that the majority of the world’s energy needs—nearly 50% in 2022—will be met by oil and gas, the supply gap poses a challenge to the international community. Oil, gas, and other fossil fuel prices have increased at a never-before-seen rate as a result of the war’s interruption of the energy supply. As of July 5, 2022, the cost of a barrel of oil in the OPEC has risen to US$114.3. Also rising from US$ 2.55 in January 2022 to US$ 3.27 in July 2022 was the price of gas globally. Energy costs are a significant factor to the cost-of-living crisis and inflation, and the economic downturn since consumers in Europe and other countries are paying more as worldwide prices have increased.
Alternatives to reduce the dependence on Russia
To negotiate the necessary purchases, the European Commission established a single buyer mechanism and reached an agreement with the US to import 15 bcm from the US daily. Germany abandoned its approval of a recently constructed gas pipeline from Russia on February 22 and is instead preparing to import liquefied natural gas from nations like Qatar and the United States. While Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK are all stepping up their efforts to construct wind power, Belgium is reconsidering its decision to abandon nuclear power.
By 2027, the EU has promised to stop importing gas from Russia. To achieve this goal, the EU can either expand pipeline imports from non-Russian gas suppliers like Azerbaijan or restart certain coal power plants. The latter would indicate that ‘Fit for 55”s goals of achieving net zero would temporarily be postponed. The production of fertilizer plants across Europe has been reported to be reduced, and 31 nations have consented to release oil from respective strategic reserves.
By increasing efficiency, some gas can be avoided, while other gas can be replaced by increasing the production of renewable energy. However, even taking into account these options to replace supply and lessen demand, there will still be a sizable difference between the two. The present market worries stem from this. The IEA has been keeping an eye on the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the world energy markets ever since the conflict began. In order to ease market pressure and send a clear message that there won’t be a shortage of supplies as a result of Russia’s invasion, member nations of the International Energy Agency (IEA) have agreed to take the extraordinary step of releasing oil from their emergency reserves on two separate occasions. One of the releases, which also included more barrels from the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve, was the biggest stock release in IEA history.
Effects on the Global Economy and Geopolitical Environment
• Inflation: After a decade of extremely low inflation, the annual inflation rate in the 27 EU member states reached 9.8 percent in July, the highest level in the previous 25 years. Wholesale gas prices were approximately 200% higher before the invasion of Ukraine; benchmark gas prices are currently trading at over €250 per MWh and reached a peak of over €340 per MWh in July, more than 10 times higher than a year ago. Similar patterns in wholesale electricity pricing had been seen.
• Recession and the impact on forex: After Russia stopped supplying gas through its main pipeline to Europe, the euro fell to a 20-year low below USD 0.99. An economy already dealing with a rise in inflation risks suffering more harm due to the euro’s weakening against the US dollar.
• Financial repercussions and potential reputational consequences: Western businesses are under increasing pressure to sever their ties with Russia. Following the invasion of Ukraine, a number of businesses made a variety of declarations about ending contracts and divesting. For these businesses, the financial effects are significant.
• Higher shipping costs: The cost of transporting crude from Russia is rising as a result of sanctions placed on the nation, which increase the hazards associated with moving cargo along such routes. Meanwhile, the cost of other passages is rising as a result of a rush to find substitute sources.
• Changes in energy policy, including the growth of renewable energy sources and the energy mix: Especially in those nations that are strongly dependent on Russia, where a new strategy is required, the current energy crisis is quickening the energy transition and necessitating additional investment in renewables. By the end of 2022 and to zero by the end of 2030, the EU has set a goal to reduce its gas imports by two-thirds through REPower EU.
Opportunities for other countries
Energy exports from Russia appear to be shifting to the East and South, two regions with expanding economies. If the price is right, this energy swing might benefit China and India. Gas reserves have been found from the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia, but it will take years to develop them and the infrastructure needed to commercialize them.
A geopolitical event as significant as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has had an indirect and direct impact on the world’s energy security situation, particularly in the shifting dynamics of the energy supply and pricing due to market volatility.
- Although the conflict in the Ukraine will likely hasten Europe’s shift from fossil fuels, it may also slow the world’s transition to clean energy and increase greenhouse gas emissions in Southeast Asia and Russia, in particular. Consequently, a fundamental fix via a full global switch to net zero is likely to remain difficult.
- It is anticipated that, within a year, practically all European nations will have stopped purchasing the majority of their oil from Russia and find substitute sources in the Middle East and elsewhere.
- The cartel of oil exporters, OPEC, rather than Russia, would determine the price they must pay. The Saudis and others would be tempted to restrict production in order to maintain prices above $100 per barrel, and this temptation will only be lessened if the US shale industry can generate a fresh boom in supplies.
- Bilateral and possibly multilateral agreements are expected to replace self-sufficient aspirations on the energy security agenda. These will include not simply lengthy supply agreements between businesses, but also perhaps deeper ties in politics, trade, and security.
- Additional gas developments will most likely be under development all around the world, even in politically sensitive locations like the waters off the coasts of Israel and Lebanon.
- Energy insecurity challenges will influence economic and political connections in Europe and around the world, fostering new alliances while also igniting fresh tensions and conflicts.
- The invasion by Russia has temporarily increased costs, but it may also herald a longer-term trend toward sustainability.
- Since the subsidies are short-term and unsustainable, the countries who used them to protect their domestic energy markets from the war’s shock may actually make things worse in the future.
The necessity for nations to achieve energy independence while protecting the environment makes the path to achieving global energy security a double-edged sword. In order to lessen Europe’s dependency on Russian energy imports, the International Energy Agency offers a number of recommendations. These recommendations can be used by other nations as well to ensure their own energy security. They include speeding up solar and wind energy projects, making the most of nuclear and bioenergy, and stepping up efforts to decarbonize energy sources. The crisis has highlighted the urgent need for nations to expand the supply of renewable energy and create alternative sustainable energy sources. The effects of Russia’s attack on Ukraine will take time to manifest; the only reliable prediction for the future is uncertainty and increased price volatility.
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