Since the EU imposed sanctions on Russia, there has been a redrawing of the global oil map, a new study shows. Instead of cutting demand, Europe has simply replaced imports from Russia with oil from other producing countries. Transport & Environment (T&E), who carried out the study, says the EU is missing a historic opportunity to cut oil consumption and reduce the continent’s reliance on imports.
Agathe Bounfour, oil programme lead at T&E, said: “In not much more than a year, the EU has redrawn the oil map. The continent has reduced its reliance on Russia, but instead of cutting oil consumption, it is simply swapping barrel for barrel with new suppliers. If it put the same effort into reducing demand as it has in finding new suppliers, Europe could significantly reduce its dependence on oil altogether.”
In January 2022, Russia accounted for 31% of European oil imports. By March 2023, that had fallen to 3% following varying sanctions. But far from ditching oil, demand is simply being sourced from different suppliers. The US replaced Russia as Europe’s number one exporter at the end of 2022, accounting for 11% of the EU imports. Norway and Saudi Arabia followed closely. Beyond Europe’s traditional suppliers, Angola’s monthly exports to the EU grew sixfold reaching almost six million barrels. The share of Brazilian and Iraqi exports also jumped.
Increased European imports have coincided with an increase in global oil production and exports. For example, 70% of the surge in the US oil production was directed to the EU between 2021 and 2022.
T&E’s analysis of oil field data shows that 80% of the surge in oil exports to Europe came from only ten fields. The largest part of the export growth came from Texas, followed by Norway’s biggest field Johan Sverdrup and Brazil’s Lula field.
While there is a wide consensus from scientists that developing new oil and gas projects is “incompatible” with the 1.5°C target, new oil projects are still being planned globally and in the key countries supplying the EU. Among them, 200 existing or planned projects are so-called oil and gas “climate bombs”, which will emit more than 1 gigatonne of CO2 over their lifetime and will exceed by far a 1.5°C carbon budget. T&E has identified 18 different climate bombs which, as it stands, will be supplying Europe with oil at least until 2030.
Imports of refined oil products from China and India have grown 70% and 13% respectively over the past year. It has been reported that these countries are importing Russian oil on the cheap and re-exporting it to the EU as jet fuel and diesel on the global market. Creating a backdoor for Russian oil runs counter to the EUs sanctions, says T&E, which warns that billions of euros have flown from the EU to Russia to fund its illegal war on Ukraine.
Oil demand too high
Europe’s oil consumption is 2% higher than it was at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The analysis shows that despite a continent-wide effort to reduce gas use, which fell 15% over the period, Europeans are not doing enough to cut down on oil. Stubbornly high demand for oil is being driven primarily by Europe’s transport sector. Road traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels and the aviation sector is set to reach its peak later this year. Last month the oil giant Shell announced that it would drop targets to cut oil production as it aims for higher profits.
If Europe achieves its current climate targets, in 2030 oil demand will drop by 16%. However, as T&E’s modelling shows, Europe can reduce oil demand by a third through a combination of measures such as speeding up the electrification of road transport, implementing speed limits and reducing air traffic.
“Households have been told to lower their thermostats while the European Commission is advertising gas sobriety. The EU has a plan to cut gas consumption up to 2024. No such plans are in place for oil. With a combination of demand reduction and increased efficiency, Europe can slash its oil consumption by a third,” concludesAgathe Bounfour.