Opinion: Decreasing Russian Oil and Gas Dependency is Necessary for Peace and the Planet

The international community has been shocked and outraged by last week’s Russian invasion of Ukraine. In response to the attack, the West has imposed some of the severest sanctions ever [1].

Yet there is more that can be done to cripple the Russian economy for, current sanctions don’t impact the juggernaut of Russia’s economy: the fossil fuel industry.

On Friday, Transport and Environment, alongside a group of 26 NGOs, urged the UK government to embargo gas and oil imports to increase financial pressure on Putin’s war machine. Specifically, by introducing tariffs followed by the complete termination of fossil fuel trade. 

Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has shocked the world, caused Europe’s largest migration crisis since the second world war, and risks destabilising the global economy. Learn more about Putin’s rise to power and personal corruption in the award-winning book, Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West (click on image for link).

A clear argument for an embargo is the fact oil and gas exports underpin Putin’s military spending; the UK alone spends over £2.5 billion on Russian oil and gas products, while the EU is set to spend between €80 and €85 billion in 2022. In no uncertain terms, attacking the fossil fuel industry is one of the most potent tools the West can use against Russia.

The embargo will impact energy prices. Yet, Putin’s extraordinary aggression requires extraordinary responses. Thus, we should seize this moment to act and begin to wean off our dependency on fossil fuels. Doing so could not only send a strong political message but could also save the planet. Let’s make this dreadful moment a catalyst for systemic change.

Opposition to an energy embargo on energy is coming from Germany which, like many other EU Member States,  relies on Russia for 55% of its gas and 35% for oil needs. Underlying the urgency to reduce reliance on Moscow, Berlin rules out a total embargo, which the Economy Minister Robert Habeck insists ‘threatens the social peace’ [2].

Such claims are unduly pessimistic. The impact of an oil embargo could be partially mitigated by importing from elsewhere. Moreover, as Ross Clark writing in The Spectator notes, the end of a mild winter means demand will drop in the spring [3].

Germany’s concerns are not unfounded though; cutting Russian oil will hurt all Europeans. Ironically, the post-war doctrine that more economically intertwined countries are less likely to go to war, now means mutual pain for both [5]. There was never going to be a good time to start phasing out fossil fuels and hardship was always inevitable. So let this be the wake-up call to end our dependency.

Ending our addiction to oil and gas for good will be a painful economic and social experience. But now may be as good a time as any to make this challenging shift from fossil fuel dependency to a green economy. Hone your knowledge of the energy transition in the 2022 book Transportation in a Net Zero World: Transitioning Towards Low Carbon Public Transport (click on image for link).

There are numerous sustainable transport alternatives to driving which if adopted by everyone will make the world a better place, long term. The Ethical Choice are calling on people to start cycling to help boycott Russian oil, citing that in the UK 68% of car journeys are less than 5 miles (8km), a journey many could make on a bike [6]. Similarly cycling 1 day a week can reduce a carbon footprint by 0.5 tonnes a year and improves public health and quality of life [7].

Cycling is not an alternative for everyone, greater emphasis on public transport is needed. Fewer cars in cities can reduce emissions by 50% and 1 bus can replace 30 cars [8]. Imagine what difference this could make; nations with less dependence on Russian oil, limiting the impact of price hikes and tackling climate change head on. All by simply changing habits and offering suitable public transportation services.

The case for a total boycott of Russian oil couldn’t be stronger; it will help Ukraine by striking this jugular of Russia’s economy, a near fatal blow to Putin’s finances. It can also be the catalyst our world needs to fully commit to phasing out fossil fuels in their entirety by showcasing feasible alternatives. Have no doubt that the eyes of history will judge how we act now as we judged those before us; let’s make sure we do what is right for the planet and Ukraine.

Article Ed Holt and Thomas Hayden-Lefebvre. Header image by Victoria Gizatullina. 


[1] J. Garside, 27th February 2022, Swift action at last brings meaningful sanctions against Putin’s regime, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/27/swift-action-at-last-brings-meaningful-sanctions-against-putin-regime  [Accessed: 4th March 2022]

[2] A. Delfs, 3rd March 2022, Germany Signals Opposition to Embargo on Russian Energy, Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-03/germany-signals-opposition-to-embargo-on-russian-energy-imports [Accessed:  4th  March 2022]

[3] R. Clark, 2nd March 2022, Will the West boycott Russian oil?, Available at:  https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/will-the-west-boycott-russian-oil- [Accessed: 4th  March 2022]

[4] Transport & Environment, 3rd March 2022, ‘End imports of Russian oil to stop financing Putin’s war’, Available at: https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/end-imports-of-russian-oil-and-gas-to-stop-financing-putins-war-2/ [Accessed: 3rd March 2022]

[5] P. Cohen and S. Reed, 25th February 2022, Why the Toughest Sanctions on Russia Are the Hardest for Europe to Wield, Available at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/business/economy/russia-europe-sanctions-gas-oil.html [Accessed: 4th  March 2022]

[6] The Ethical Choice, 3rd March 2022, Want to help boycott Russian oil? Get on your bike, Available at:  https://www.eta.co.uk/2022/03/03/want-to-help-boycott-russian-oil-get-on-your-bike/  [Accessed: 4th  March 2022]

[7] H. Dunning, 4th February 2021, Ditching the car for walking or biking just one day a week cuts carbon footprint, Available at: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/214235/ditching-walking-biking-just-week-cuts/#:~:text=The%20largest%20benefits%20from%20shifts,daily%20travel%20than%20non%2Dcyclists [Accessed: 5th March 2022]

[8] Ridango, 24th September 2022, Five reasons why using public transport is better for the environment, Available at: https://ridango.com/blog/five-reasons-why-using-public-transport-is-better-for-the-environment/ [Accessed 5th March 2022]

Bartosz Brzezinski from Chicago (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ukrainian_diaspora_in_Brussels_protests_the_Russian_invasion_(51908400915).jpg), „Ukrainian diaspora in Brussels protests the Russian invasion (51908400915)“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Mondo79 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Total_petrol_station_(51743034109).jpg), „Total petrol station (51743034109)“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode