Europe could eliminate the need to import gas from Russia by 2030 with a major push on energy efficiency, a think-tank has said.
The move to improve energy efficiency would have to target appliances, buildings and industry across Europe but could help save some £400bn on energy bills across the continent, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said.
The campaign could reduce Europe’s gas consumption by up to a third, which equals the amount of current Russian imports.
As 24 out of 28 EU member states import gas from Russia, with half of the imported amount flowing through Ukraine, Europe’s energy security is in a rather difficult situation, the think tank believes.
To address the uncertainties, worsening since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the IPPR calls for a more ambitious energy savings target than that pursued by the European Commission as part of a package of climate and energy measures drawn up for 2030.
"The crisis in Ukraine has reignited the debate in Europe over whether the package of energy policies that the continent's leaders are aiming to agree in October should include a binding 2030 target on energy efficiency,” said IPPR research fellow Joss Garman.
"This is because the countries that are most dependent on Russian gas are also the least fuel-efficient, and improvements in energy efficiency could vastly reduce the scale of our dependency on Russia."
The IPPR proposes a target aiming for a 35 per cent consumption reduction, which is 5 per cent more than what has been proposed by the European Commission.
"This level of ambition would enable Europe to cut gas imports by a third, equivalent to the proportion of the EU's gas demand that is currently met by Russia,” Garman said, adding that Russia receives about £25bn a year from the EU for imported gas.
"Britain should overcome its aversion to an energy efficiency target as part of its broader response to Russian aggression," he said.
The report also calls for a EU-wide commitment to halve greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, with binding emissions targets for each member state, and for a legally-binding goal to boost renewables by 30 per cent by then.
"Recent events in Ukraine and the Middle East have served to highlight the vulnerability of our energy supplies and the political straitjacket that results from our over-dependence on fossil fuel imports from these volatile regions,” said former Government Climate and Energy Security Envoy Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti.
"The quickest and most effective form of energy security is to use less.”
The UK government is known to be against the binding energy efficiency target.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We are committed to energy efficiency and support ambitious EU energy efficiency measures to promote economic growth, reduce costs for households and businesses, improve energy security and support action to decarbonise cost-effectively.
"We are concerned that an EU energy efficiency target for 2030 would not allow member states the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increase the costs of delivering the overall 2030 package."
The proponents of tougher measures believe that increased focus on efficiency and carbon emission reduction would encourage technological innovation that would help Europe to compete with the US and China in the global market.