Europeans urged to turn down heating by 1°C to reduce need for Russian imports amid invasion of Ukraine

Europeans should turn down their thermostats by a degree to save on gas and reduce dependency on Russian imports, which Russia is wielding as a weapon in the Ukraine war, the world’s leading energy adviser has said.

Governments in Europe should also impose a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies that have enjoyed a bonanza from soaring energy prices, and use it to cut energy bills for hard-pressed consumers, according to a 10-point plan formulated by the International Energy Agency that would reduce Russian gas imports by about a third before next winter.

The planned closure of several nuclear power stations should also be delayed, red tape should be cut to bring forward the construction of more wind and solar generation and efforts to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses must be stepped up urgently, the IEA said.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, the global energy watchdog, said: “Russia is using its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon. This is clear to everyone in the world.”

Adjusting home thermostats by 1°C would save about 10bn cubic metres of gas within a year, a useful saving on total Russian gas imports of 155bn cubic metres, if implemented alongside the other measures. Birol said: “It would help to reduce [household] energy bills, but maintain comfort.”

The 10-point plan also includes advice to governments not to sign any new gas contracts with Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom, or to renew expiring deals; to set a minimum obligation on energy companies to store gas; to speed up the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps; and to seek alternative gas supplies from elsewhere in the world.

The EU relies on Russia for about 40% of its gas consumption. Gas prices have soared to record levels in recent months, in part owing to the global economic rebound from Covid-19, but also because Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, engineered a reduction of about 25% in Russian gas supplies to Europe in recent months.

The IEA said its advice was consistent with the EU’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the European green deal, and would not require any increase of fossil fuel use. However, if Putin were to cut European gas supplies further, causing gas prices to rise even higher than current levels, the EU could come under pressure to expand its use of coal instead of cutting it.