The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
Within 24 hours of the UN Environment Programme warning of “catastrophic warming” unless global fossil gas production is reduced by a quarter by 2030, the European Union’s Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson was talking up the role of fossil gas as a “transition” from oil and coal. But a transition from one fossil fuel to another does nothing to help the world in the face of climate catastrophe.
In December, the European Commission looks set to publish its proposal for a revision of the TEN-E regulation. This regulation will decide which energy infrastructure projects the EU supports, both financially and politically. Large-scale infrastructure like this is at the heart of the energy system and will shape Europe’s energy transition. Its impact on the climate therefore cannot be overstated and indeed this revision was itself prompted by the European Green Deal.
Given concern for the climate was a central reason why TEN-E is being reconsidered, the banning of any future funding of fossil fuels would be an obvious choice. Yet civil society groups are concerned TEN-E will keep the door wide open to precious public funds going towards climate-wrecking fossil gas projects.
Fearing for their long-term survival, fossil fuel companies are pinning their hopes on fossil gas, with coal and oil increasingly out of vogue. They are working hard to convince policy-makers that fossil gas is clean, low-carbon and crucially a useful transitionary form of energy.
But the idea that gas as a “transition” fuel can help tackle climate change is a lie. In the EU, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil gas have now exceeded those from coal. Globally, emissions are rising with fossil gas accounting for over 50% of the increase in global greenhouse gas emissions since 2016. Methane is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period and has driven over a quarter of total global warming to date. Fossil gas is a key driver of the climate crisis, not a solution to it.
According to the oil and gas firm Rystad, in 2019 France’s gas pipelines operated at half capacity, while its gas import terminals imported only 60% of what they could. Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain all performed similarly poorly. And in Germany, which is currently looking to build new import terminals, gas pipelines carried only a third of what they could take. Even Central and Eastern Europe now has enough gas pipes and import terminals to withstand supply shocks. According to the think tank Artelys, Europe can get enough gas even if a source—like Russia—were to turn off the taps.
Instead, we should be seeing EU’s public funds being spent towards projects that will support the mass deployment of renewables, such as offshore wind. The EU is currently far behind in financing the necessary renewable energy to meet its climate targets.
The three main pillars of the industry’s argument to maintain gas investment—climate, economics and energy security—are flawed. This was the conclusion the European Investment Bank reached last year, after agreeing to stop funding fossil fuels. So how can it be possible that TEN-E will continue to allow for funding of fossil gas?
TEN-E gifts huge power to the gas industry. Under the auspices of “ENTSO-G”, gas companies are entrusted to shape the very policy they stand to benefit from, with TEN-E enshrining into law this conflict of interest ridden role for the gas industry. ENTSO-G has continually overestimated how much gas Europe needs. In the six years to 2019, ENTSO-G’s estimates were up to 21% higher than actual demand.
TEN-E grants ENTSO-G the ability to suggest which gas projects are chosen to be part of the European Commission’s “Projects of Common Interest (PCI)” list, that are fast-tracked and have access to subsidies. It’s then little surprise that almost €4 billion of EU money for gas projects has gone to projects these companies are involved in.
To combat this, we want to see an independent public body set up to carry out energy system planning and assess which projects should get support based on the realistic projections that are aligned with the Paris climate agreement, instead of decisions being made by and for the narrow interests of profit margins.
Revision of TEN-E stands to be a serious indicator of whether curbing the EU’s reliance on fossil fuels fits into the broader European Green Deal. Failing to do so will leave many questioning just how successful the EU’s green efforts can truly be.
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