Saturday

19th Sep 2020

Opinion

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

  • The most targeted decision-makers are commissioner Frans Timmermans and his cabinet members - and they also score badly on transparency (Photo: European Parliament)

While German chancellor Angela Merkel pays the European Parliament a visit in Brussels today (Wednesday 8 July), the European Commission will present its new hydrogen strategy.

The aim is to contribute to the European Green Deal goal of climate neutrality by 2050, and "to help the EU recover from Covid-19's economic impact".

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The Green Deal was announced on 11 December 2019 by Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen as the EU's "man on the moon" project.

And as with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Both hydrogen strategies, while officially prioritising green hydrogen (made of renewable energy), keep the door firmly open to fossil gas and hydrogen made with fossil fuels.

Meanwhile scientists tell us that the climate emergency requires us to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and that includes gas, as bad as any other fossil fuel. We simply do not have time for more dangerous distractions.

However, decision-makers get trapped in arguments of 'political realism' and of 'we need to have everyone on board'; in this situation what the science requires gets thrown out of the window.

But their "political realism" risks voiding both the EU's climate commitments, and the Paris Agreement, and locking us into dangerous runaway climate change.

Green Deal becoming 'greyer'

So why is the hydrogen strategy, and more worryingly, the European Green Deal, courting fossil gas?

As Green MEP Michael Bloss put it: "The gas lobby has massive influence on the EU hydrogen strategy".

A Corporate Europe Observatory report published on Tuesday (7 July) explores the dirty fingerprints of the fossil fuel lobby over the Green Deal, the number one lobby topic in Brussels.

In the first 100 days after its launch top commission officials in charge of the Green Deal met 151 times with business interests representatives - around 11 meetings a week.

However, the number is likely to be even higher given that limited transparency rules only cover the top one percent of officials, so we do not know how many lobby meetings below this level have taken place, nor what is being discussed.

The most targeted decision-makers are commissioner Frans Timmermans and his cabinet members, and they also score badly on transparency.

They only took notes for three meetings out of 56 meetings on the Green Deal with industry.

Shell, Eurogas, Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Eni, and Gas Infrastructure Europe are among the fossil fuel lobbyists who met with the commissioner or members of his cabinet, with no records filed.

The Green Deal is Timmermans' brainchild as well as the commission's flagship policy. He can be a very enthusiastic communicator about the deal, and his language sometimes hints that the climate ambitions of the deal are a bitter pill for the fossil fuel industry: "Few turkeys will be applauding the Christmas dinner".

But to extend his metaphor: except when the turkey is a co-partner in the meal planning and takes itself off the menu - which is exactly what the fossil fuel industry has done.

Moreover, rather than learning the lesson from Covid-19 that we need to listen to scientific warnings – whether about novel diseases or climate change – the fossil fuel lobby has also used the current crisis in an opportunistic way.

The fossil fuel lobby has exploited the shock caused by the pandemic and in the name of 'recovery' managed to double Invest EU funds for hydrogen and CCS (unproven carbon capture and storage technology). This is the perfect example of what author and scholar Naomi Klein calls the "shock doctrine".

In general, the fossil fuel lobby is quite happy with the focus the EU is putting on "net-zero by 2050" and the push for hydrogen.

Why? It keeps their business model largely intact and allows huge energy companies to remain in control of a centralised energy system, from which they can keep profiting now and in the decades to come.

As with other 'false solutions' prioritised by the fossil fuel industry in recent decades, the hydrogen option allows fossil fuel companies to keep polluting without much disruption to their business model.

These 'solutions' do not fundamentally solve climate change and in fact can be a dangerous distraction from real action, locking us into planning for and building infrastructure for a fossil-fuelled future, rather than one fuelled by renewables and decentralised energy.

The latter, as some towns are already showing today, can benefit citizens, local communities, and the climate.

But this new energy paradigm is a scary vision for the dirty energy giants who have dominated politics and industry for a century. This is why the privileged access of the fossil fuel lobby is so politically toxic.

Because yes, Timmermans has a truly great speech, but action speaks louder than words. And the action so far has given us fifty shades of grey, and not enough green to make a difference.

Author bio

Belén Balanyá and Lala Hakuma Dadc are both researchers at Corporate Europe Observatory, a NGO which exposes privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy-making.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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