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27th Nov 2021

Ombudsman censures EU Commission on gas-projects list

  • In the EU, fossil gas is currently responsible for more emissions than coal (Photo: Trans Adriatic Pipeline)

The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has concluded that climate risks from gas projects included on the European Commission's list of priority energy projects were "not sufficiently taken into account".

Earlier this year, the EU watchdog began an inquiry into how the commission assesses the sustainability of gas projects before they were included on the fourth Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list - following a complaint by the NGO Food and Water Europe, in October 2019.

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Under that list, liquified natural gas (LNG) projects, gas storage sites and several pipeline projects such as the controversial EastMed pipeline, designed to link Israel and Cyprus to Greece, are eligible for public funds through the European Investment Bank.

But "given the EU's objectives concerning climate change and sustainability, it is regrettable that gas projects were included on previous PCI lists, without having their sustainability properly assessed," O'Reilly said in her assessment published last week (19 November).

However, the ombudsman concluded that "no further inquiries are justified at this point" since the commission is working on improving the methodology and sustainability criteria for the next PCI list, to be drawn up in 2021.

"The commission must walk the talk and truly deliver on real climate analysis in the next list," said Andy Gheorghiu from Food & Water Europe, who is calling for "a more rigorous and independent sustainability test is necessary for future PCI [list]."

However, Gheorghiu also noted that the EU executive is still planning to work with gas industry giant ENTSOG on the next list.

In her assessment, O'Reilly urged the commission to address the "shortcomings" in their methodology considering that climate objectives "have gained in urgency with the increasing awareness of the accelerating climate crisis".

"In particular, this implies updating the sustainability criterion so that it takes into account greenhouse gas emissions and efficiency impacts, as well as the impact on the overall greenhouse gas intensity of energy production in EU member states and the emissions related to the functioning of the proposed infrastructure itself," she said.

Since the EU has pledged to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050, the EU Ombudsman also reminded the commission that citizens expect this target to be reflected in concrete policies and initiatives proposed by the EU executive, including in the energy sector.

"The projects that are included on future PCI lists should have sustainability to the fore. Improving how the sustainability of candidate gas projects is assessed would be an important step to this end," O'Reilly said.

€4bn of taxpayers' money

Green groups and civil society organisations welcomed the decision, calling on the commission to consider the EU Ombudsman's recommendations in their ongoing review of energy legislation.

"This milestone decision by the European Ombudsman underlines what we have already known for some time - the commission has been supporting fossil gas projects without any concern for the huge impact this is having on the climate," said Murray Worthy from British NGO Global Witness.

"It would now be completely unthinkable that the ongoing review of this process, due to be published in less than a month, does not seriously curb the influence of fossil gas companies and puts a stop to the damaging support for fossil gas infrastructure right across Europe," he added.

A recent Global Witness report revealed that fossil gas companies have used the PCI to pocket €4bn of taxpayers' money - 87 percent of this money has gone to projects of ENTSOG members.

The EU executive is expected to publish its revised Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E) regulation, which governs the PCI framework, in December.

In the EU, fossil gas is currently responsible for more emissions than coal.

Investigation

The European gas trap

With the support of EU institutions, the fossil industry is investing in natural gas infrastructure all across the continent, from Tallinn to Athens and from the Baltic to the Aegean. But does Europe truly need all this natural gas?

Controversial EastMed pipeline not necessary, report warns

A new report warned that the gas reserves over which Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and the EU are currently embroiled could lead to an increase of greenhouse gas emissions that could undermine the bloc's climate goals for both 2030 and 2050.

Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

Civil society organisations criticised that the commission is relying on early-stage technologies that require the continued use of fossil fuels, undermining the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality target set in the Green Deal.

New EU rules for energy-project funding to keep fossil gas

The European Commission will unveil a reform of EU criteria for picking energy infrastructure projects for financial support - with a particular focus on hydrogen. However, green groups have warned of the risks of not excluding fossil fuels.

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