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LNG will not liberate us from Russian gas

Much has been made of Germany ’ s softer approach to Russia during the Ukraine crisis . Critics have lamented the new government ’ s limited enthusiasm for locking horns with Moscow , chiding Berlin for failing to send weapons to Ukraine or to commit to cancelling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline .
Some commentators have linked this irksome pacifism not only to the horrors of its militarism last century but also to its growing dependence on Russian gas . They say Berlin ’ s decisions to exit coal and nuclear energy have left the country at the mercy of Russian goodwill and that the absence of even a single German LNG terminal has sealed this fate . But this criticism about gas , at least , is misplaced . The bulk of German gas demand is tied up with heating and industry – not power . These sectors ’ emissions have stagnated for decades for want of incentives to change .
German gas use remains around where it was in the mid-1990s , well before its nuclear and coal exits were introduced , largely because the fuel still heats around half of German homes . Indeed , heating accounts for roughly half of gas demand during the peak winter months . Here ’ s the nub : it is not the Energiewende that weds Europe to Russian gas , rather its absence . Nor would a German LNG facility solve much . You can have all the LNG terminals in the world , but they ’ re useless if the vessels don ’ t show up .
After operating well below capacity for most of the last decade , Europe ’ s LNG terminals have recently imported record volumes of the fuel . Yet even with another 25 % spare capacity , they struggle to find more cargoes on the world market . This indeed puts Russia in a position to squeeze Europe . Yet it can only do so because the world is short of gas . In the short term , there is no way around this dependence – just look at a map .
Europe can ’ t change its location , but it can change how it lives there . If Europeans – and their American friends – want to cut the continent ’ s reliance on Russian gas , they would be better served to address demand . A diligent rollout of insulation and heat pumps will win Europeans more security and independence than a few second-hand howitzers .
By Nathan Witkop , German Correspondent
Montel Magazine 1 – 2022