Green anger as EU prepares to subsidise dash for gas

In first energy initiative since Paris climate deal, Brussels backs public funds for fossil fuel projects, in clash with climate goals

An LNG tanker in port (Pic: Shell)

An LNG tanker in port (Pic: Shell)

By Megan Darby

The EU emphasised gas supply in its “energy union” strategy unveiled on Tuesday, raising doubts about its commitment to climate goals.

Diversifying gas supply routes is Brussels’ main answer to concerns parts of Europe are overly reliant on imports from an aggressive Russia.

In the European Commission’s first big energy initiative since agreeing a UN climate pact in Paris, it proposed subsidies for new pipelines and LNG terminals.

“EU funds can help to make up for the weak commercial viability of terminals that are particularly important for security of supply,” read the LNG strategy paper.

Analysts warned such facilities, which can last 40 years or more, risk locking in dependence on fossil fuels. If the EU is serious about its climate targets, the pipelines will be stranded.

In Paris, 195 countries agreed to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions globally in the second half of the century. Nearly all coal, oil and gas burning needs to be eliminated worldwide to make that happen.

What is more, the latest data shows gas demand across the 28-state bloc falling, as green policies kick in. Consumption in 2014 was 23% lower than a 2010 peak.

The European Court of Auditors recently urged the Commission to reassess the need for gas infrastructure in light of “uncertain” demand.

“The Commission has persistently overestimated gas demand,” its report read, “and needs to restore the credibility of the forecasts it uses.”

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Modelling by think tank E3G to be published next month is expected to show nine out of 10 proposed projects are not needed.

“One of the benefits of lowering energy demand is having to build less infrastructure,” E3G’s Jonathan Gaventa told Climate Home. “They have not really joined up the dots.”

Cutting energy waste, particularly in heating and cooling buildings, does form part of the Commission’s package. But it isn’t the focus, said Gaventa: “It seems like most of the effort has gone into the gas side of things.”

At a webcast press conference, climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete described gas as a transition fuel to a clean energy mix. Gas emits roughly half the climate pollutants of coal when burned.

Canete did not directly answer a question on when the EU should stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure, however.

“Even if we meet our targets on renewables and energy efficiency, we are going to need big amounts of gas,” he said. “Our strategy is not about using more gas, but about using it more intelligently.”

Claude Turmes, Green member of the European Parliament from Luxembourg, was scathing in his response.

The proposals are “nothing less than a provocation”, he wrote in a comment piece for Euractiv liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks. “Europe does not need more gas; it needs efficiency and renewable energy sources.”

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Alongside the energy security agenda, EU officials are working on an official response to the Paris pact.

Brussels endorsed an aspirational target to limit global warming to 1.5C. Its intensely negotiated 2030 climate targets are based on a 2C goal.

A leaked draft says “there is no requirement” for the EU to revise those goals. It has an “opportunity” to do so after a global stocktake of progress in 2018, however. Heads of member states are due to discuss the options 17-18 March.

EU lawmakers are pushing for stronger efforts on energy efficiency, in particular. The agreed goal is a 27% improvement. Under pressure, the Commission agreed to model ambition of up to 40%, Euractiv reported last month.

Jiri Jerabek, energy policy adviser at Greenpeace EU, argued clean energy could boost security as well as climate objectives.

“It’s like the Paris agreement never happened and the Commission is stuck on gas, dishing out a costly proposal that will keep Europe hooked on energy imports,” he said.

“It is high time Europe embraces the renewable energy transition. Only if it focuses on renewables and energy efficiency will Europe meet its climate targets and reduce its dependence on foreign energy supplies.”

Read more on: EU | Fossil Fuels