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26th Jan 2020

EU targets Beijing Olympics on climate change

  • The 2004 Olympic celebrations (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Commission and the German EU presidency are hoping an EU push on climate change targets at next week's EU summit could lead to an international agreement on energy efficiency to be announced at next year's Beijing Olympic games.

"If we are lucky this could be prepared by the EU this spring. It could then be readied in the framework of the G8 by the German presidency and it could lead next year to an announcement at the Olympic Games in Beijing," senior European Commission official Helmut Schmitt von Sydow said in Brussels on Thursday (1 March).

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EU leaders meeting in Brussels on 8 March are set to endorse commission proposals to cut EU energy use and CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 in a move designed to get other major energy players, such as the US and China, to take steps in what some experts describe as EU "unilateral disarmament" in a Cold War on climate.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, a former environment minister, has thrown her weight behind making the spring EU summit into a climate change summit, despite industry concerns. "It will cost our industry a lot, but if we do nothing the cost will be even higher," Mr Von Sydow said at a debate organised by Brussels-based think-tank CEPS.

The need to involve China in any meaningful climate fight is underlined by oil industry figures, which show that while today the US consumes 11 million barrels a day (mbd), the EU 9 mbd and China 3 mbd, by 2030 the figures will be US 15 mbd, the EU 13 mbd and China 12 mbd.

The commission has already begun technical talks on the Olympic statement with international partners. But it is unclear yet how big the Olympic target on energy efficiency will be and what deadline will be put forward. The agreement is to be unveiled at one of the cultural events that take part on the fringe of each games.

"It's embryonic," another commission official said on the project. "The Olympic games is not just a sporting event. It's also about building bridges. You know, we can try to be ambitious, to set or to break some records on climate change," he said.

A large part of the EU's emerging new common energy policy targets the link between CO2 and climate change - now an established scientific fact - with Brussels' proposals to break up national EU energy corporations into smaller bits also aimed at helping new suppliers of renewable energy enter the electricity market.

The hydrocarbon reality

But other speakers at the CEPS debate on Thursday pointed out some harsh realities of the energy status quo, with world number two oil and gas exporter Russia more focussed on managing competition for dwindling hydrocarbon resources than fancy theories of an "industrial revolution" and a renewable energy era.

"Until 2030 fossil fuels will still dominate the world energy balance," Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov said, citing fresh Russian studies. "The main energy players will reach a peak of extraction of hydrocarbons from their own resources in the next decade."

Looking at the more immediate threats to EU energy security, Mr Chizhov urged Europe to let Russian firms become "equal partners in energy assets" such as consumer petrol and electricity distribution chains in Europe in order to build trust and predictability between the EU and its main hydrocarbon supplier.

He complained about "energy Russophobia" in the EU in a thinly-disguised swipe at Polish and other ex-communist EU states' belief that Russia uses energy as a tool of political blackmail. "Russia...acts in accordance with established [market] principles but is not always understood correctly," he said.

The Gazprom question

CEPS' own expert and former EU ambassador to Moscow, Micheal Emerson, explained that reluctance to allow Gazprom to move into EU consumer markets is not grounded in Soviet-era prejudice but on modern economic realities however, citing Gazprom's recent verbal attack on EU plans to liberalise the internal energy market.

"Gazprom would like to be a monopolist in a common European economic space with no competition rules in that space. That's a problem," the CEPS analyst said. "It can be reasonable for Europeans to say 'no, thank you' from time to time not due to discrimination but due to economic principles."

Mr Emerson referred to a recent study by the Swedish defence research agency which said that of the 55 Russian energy supply interruptions in Europe recorded in the past few years, all but 10 had "geopolitical underpinnings" of some sort. "The Swedish agency is not known for its emotionalism," he added.

"This has antagonised, to different degrees, all your European neighbours. We're looking at two opposite foreign policy paradigms - Ruski realpolitik versus European political norms and values," the CEPS analyst told Mr Chizhov, calling for both sides to "converge" to avoid creating "winners and losers" in a cynical game.

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