As the world marks Earth Day 2022 today, countries across Europe are grappling with how to wean themselves off fossil fuels, especially oil and gas from Russia.

Some environmental campaigners are even cautiously optimistic that the war in Ukraine could provide the push needed to finally move the west towards more renewables.

"The best way to cure an addiction is to get off it completely and not go looking for another dealer," said Tara Connolly, Senior Gas Campaigner at Global Witness.

Eight weeks into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels has been brought into sharp focus.

Here are three ways in which the EU is trying to cut back on fossil fuels in response to the crisis.

But as soaring living costs put pressure on governments, there is a danger that some poorer European countries outside the bloc, will turn to short-fix solutions, meaning vital climate targets are missed.

1. Higher targets for renewables

Despite its pledge to cut off Russian energy supplies by 2027, in the short term, the EU remains dependent on Moscow for 26% of its oil imports and 40% of its gas - importing 155 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year.

This week, the European Commission vowed to assess whether it could accelerate this shift away from Russia, by working towards a higher target of a 45% share of renewable energy by 2030, instead of the current target of 40%.

"We are working on it at full speed," Mechthild Woersdoerfer, deputy director-general of the Commission's energy department, told a meeting of EU lawmakers on Wednesday.

All this builds on the landmark 'Green Deal’ put before the European Parliament at the end of 2019, which marked an ambitious policy shift for the European Union, in which it determined to become the first "climate-neutral bloc" by 2050.

Russia is currently the EU's top gas supplier, but the bloc now expects to reduce European demand for Russian gas by two thirds by the end of this year, before phasing it out completely by that deadline in five years’ time.

"It’s quite a jump from where we are now," says Luke O’Callaghan-White, Senior Researcher at the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs.

"But it speaks to the seriousness with which the commission is finally recognising the European over-dependence on Russian energy, but also Europe-wide over-dependence on fossil energy."

He said the main obstacles standing in the way are political.

Italy imports all of its gas and the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said Russian supplies cannot be cut off overnight, with its sights now set on phasing them out by the end of this year.

"Countries like Poland are incredibly dependent on oil and gas imports from Russia whereas in Ireland, we import through pipelines from the UK, so there’s a divergence of priorities that are there," he added.

Tara Connolly from Global Witness also welcomed the European Commission’s plan as "better late than never".

But she added: "NGOs had been looking for a 45% target eight years ago the last time Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, so it's disappointing that it's taken a brutal invasion for Europe to fully acknowledge the benefits of renewables."

Global Witness believes an even higher target of 50% should be looked at by the EU for 2030.

It is also calling for an immediate embargo of Russian fossil fuels as one of the best ways to end the war and "stop bankrolling Putin’s war machine".

2. Harnessing the sun and the wind

The EU already gets 22% of its gross final energy consumption from renewables such as wind, solar and biomass, according to the latest figures from 2020.

The share varies widely between EU countries, ranging from more than 50% in Sweden to below 10% in Luxembourg.

In its plan published next month, the European Commission is expected to outline legal proposals to make it easier for renewable energy projects to get permits.

Luke O’Callaghan-White said only a big move towards renewables in the next few months has the potential to pull Europe - and the west - out of the economic chaos caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

He pointed to the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found opportunities to cut global emissions affordably had risen, but only if governments take hard and fast action.

"Otherwise we are not going to meet our Paris climate obligations and the most important work really needs to take place right now, not in the future," he warned.

There's a price, invisible and sometimes not so invisible, that we’ve all been paying for our reliance on fossil fuels.

But Mr O'Callaghan-White believes there is some cause for optimism: "It is clear we have all the technological capabilities and financial pathways are available.

"All that’s missing is the political will and it's a welcome development that the Commission and the Parliament have been looking for an increase in the share of renewable energy mix by 2030."

He believes that in Ireland’s case the real opportunity is in wind energy, and not in the construction a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal here, which he said could take years to develop and ultimately prove to be a "white elephant".

It could also cause serious political fall-out among current coalition government partners, due to opposition from the Green Party over the potential import of fracked gas.

"Even if An Bord Pleanála gave permission for the LNG plant terminal to go ahead tomorrow, gas wouldn’t come on stream for ten years," he added.

Instead, Mr O'Callaghan-White said a more joined-up approach was needed across Europe, pointing to a Danish proposal this week to ramp up the wind power it can provide from a series of energy islands across the North Sea.

"Denmark and Europe must be free of Russian fossil fuels as fast as possible," Denmark’s Minister of Climate, Energy, and Utilities Dan Jørgensen said of the plans.

"The North Sea holds the wind potential to cover the energy need of millions of European homes."

Luke O’Callaghan-White agrees: "This has the ability to provide power to ten million homes in Europe, Denmark has a population of just under six million.

"So, through greater inter-connection between European countries there is an opportunity for those countries … less disposed to a speedy transition to renewables."

Industry groups such as SolarPower Europe are also urging Brussels to do more to ease delays in issuing permits and has warned there is also a shortage of installers.

The European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, told the Solar Power Summit late last month: "We need to bring manufacturing back to Europe, and the commission is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen."

She said this would include help to finance projects.

The Commission has said 170 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Russian gas could be replaced with 480 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 420 GW of solar capacity by 2030, representing a tripling in wind and solar capacity.

3. People power - individuals urged to cut down on their energy consumption to help Ukraine

The International Energy Agency and the European Commission yesterday outlined a range of measures.

Simple steps, they said, would allow people to reduce their energy usage and save money amidst mounting bills.

The IEA said just adjusting boiler settings, driving more slowly and swapping short-haul flights for trains, could help consumers reduce reliance on Russian energy and cut their bills.

"This would have the potential ... to fill 120 super tankers or save enough natural gas to heat almost 20 million homes, if adopted by all EU citizens," the watchdog said.

"Faced with the horrendous scenes of human suffering that we’ve seen following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, people in Europe want to take action," IEA Executive Director Dr Birol said.

Balkan nations are among those turning back to the most polluting fossil fuels of all.

"Using less energy is a concrete way to help the Ukrainian people – and to help ourselves. This guide has easy-to-follow steps that with little or no discomfort on our part can reduce the flow of money to Russia’s military and help put us on a path to a cleaner and more sustainable planet."

Addressing the IEA meeting, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said all these smaller efficiencies could quickly add up.

"That saves consumers money, it reduces the amount of gas that we buy from the market and therefore revenues going to the Russian government, and it's a step in the efficiencies direction, where we need to go anyway," he told the meeting.

Luxembourg’s Minister for Energy and Special Planning Claude Turmes warned that concrete regulatory measures were needed such as a coordinated speed limit across Europe.

European Commission Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen said it would take time to regulate across Europe and there was a lot that could be done at an individual level in the meantime.

Luke O’Callaghan-White said that while such individual actions do count for something, it is most important for political leaders themselves to show the change.

"When you start to prioritise individual actions, you do show a gulf between those who can afford some of the more expensive retrofit schemes, and those who can’t."

The danger of the old reliables

While larger and richer economies such as Germany are accelerating the adaptation towards renewables, the rising cost of living and energy prices in some poorer European countries - which are outside of the EU - are being pushed towards coal.

Balkan nations are among those turning back to the most polluting fossil fuels of all, raising fears among environmentalists that they are rowing back on commitments to phase it out.

North Macedonia, once a frontrunner in attracting renewable energy investors, said earlier this month it planned to open two new coal mines to supply power stations.

"With the start of the energy crisis, not just us but all nations in Europe have immediately increased the production of electricity from coal because it is the cheapest and most secure (source)," said Vasko Kovacevski, CEO of state-owned power utility Elektrani na Severna Makedonija (ESM).

Kosovo, meanwhile, said foreign companies - including from Germany - had also inquired about buying coal. Kosovo has the world's fifth largest deposits of lignite, a soft coal whose relatively low energy content translates to especially toxic pollution when burnt.

Serbia has said it is increasing coal production due to insufficient rain for hydro-electric plants, and that it will import 500 tonnes of coal per day from Montenegro.

Bosnia, the only Balkan country that exports electricity, says it will delay plans to shut down coal-fired power plants due to high energy prices and the impact of war in Ukraine.

Russia is also redirecting its energy exports from the west to friendly countries, such as China and India, which have refused to condemn its actions in Ukraine and continue to buy Russian crude.

India, the world's third largest oil importer, has booked at least 16 million barrels of Russian oil since the invasion began, almost as much as it bought in all of 2021, according to calculations by the news agency Reuters.

Meanwhile, oil producers from the Middle East, who said they felt treated like outcasts at the COP26 climate conference late last year, say their supplies are back in strong demand.

The US has challenged oil companies to drill more in an attempt to bring down soaring gasoline prices there - going against President Joe Biden's own stalled greener policies.

"They definitely feel that they are back on people’s Christmas lists, as such, but it's very up in the air at the moment," said Tara Connolly of Global Witness. "It can be a bit murky because everyone is throwing the kitchen sink at this problem."

However, she thinks the war in Ukraine has opened many people’s eyes to the darker and dirtier side of energy supply and hopes this change is here to stay.

"I think I’m more optimistic because the world has realised that gas is not reliable, it's not cheap and it's not clean and it's not good for global geo-stability either," she said.

"There’s a price, invisible and sometimes not so invisible, that we’ve all been paying for our reliance on fossil fuels, and I think the awareness of that is now much greater than it would have been last year."