Monday

10th Aug 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".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Regions urge EU to act on 'green hydrogen'

The EU's regions urged the unlocking of the potential of hydrogen produced from renewable sources, so-called 'green hydrogen', to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Green Deal

ExxonMobil lobbyists pushed for weaker EU Green Deal

ExxonMobil lobbyists pushed the EU commission to weaken climate regulation for the transport sector with a two-pronged strategy: supporting the Paris Agreement, while dwelling on long-term technical solutions and promoting oil and gas usage in the green transition.

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.

Why hydrogen is no magic solution for EU Green Deal

Why is the EU Commission promoting a lose-lose (pay more, get less) strategy rather than the straightforward use of green electricity, where it will deliver bigger CO2-reductions and for less money?

Schrems privacy ruling risks EU's ties to digital world

With more and more trade moving to the digital realm, Europe can ill-afford to cut itself off. Meanwhile, China continues to advance a vision for an internet that is fractured along national boundaries and controlled by governments.

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Night of violence in Minsk prompts talk of EU sanctions
  2. Schrems privacy ruling risks EU's ties to digital world
  3. UK asks military to stop Channel migrants
  4. EU wary of violence in Belarus election
  5. Iraqis paid €2,000 each agree to leave Greece
  6. EU's most sustainable islands are Danish 'Sunshine Islands'
  7. Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy
  8. Rainbow flag protesters charged by Polish police

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us