Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

Opinion

Hypocrisy of S&D and Left MEPs on fossil-fuel gas pipelines

  • Some MEPs appear to have fallen for the fossil fuel industry's spin. The proposed plans would fund projects that transport hydrogen - which is produced by burning fossil gas (Photo: Bilfinger SE)
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"We've had enough of empty rhetoric from those who say that they believe that climate change has to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but then duck out when push comes to shove, when the real binding measures that can make a difference are negotiated."

This was the Socialists and Democrats' MEP Miriam Dalli speaking to the European Parliament in 2019, as MEPs voted to declare a symbolic climate emergency.

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Two years on, and the planet has been battered by ever-more terrifying extreme weather events, with poorer and marginalised communities the world over being hit the hardest.

And two years later, the majority of members of the European Parliament's energy committee, including the Socialists and the Left, look set to green-light measures proposed by conservative parties which would lock the EU into fossil gas for years to come, according to draft positions seen by Global Witness.

To add salt to the wound, hundreds of millions of euros in public money could be used to prop up a fuel that has already overtaken coal to become Europe's second-largest source of carbon. According to International Energy Agency models, there can be no further exploration and production of fossil gas if the world is to stay below 1.5 degrees of global heating.

Put simply: the real binding measures that can make a difference are being negotiated, and it seems as though even progressive MEPs are choosing to go with empty rhetoric again.

Tonight's the night

On Monday evening (13 September), negotiators in the European Parliament's committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) committee will hammer out their positions on the future of fossil-gas infrastructure funding in the EU.

The legislation they will debate, the TEN-E Regulation, is due for a vote at the full committee at the end of September. Unsurprisingly, the right-wing parties have taken a pro-gas line.

Remarkably, however, the S&D – led by shadow rapporteur Erik Bergkvist– and the Left Party – which is represented by Sandra Pereira – have also signalled they will not oppose measures to support the fossil fuel.

The socialists' lack of opposition would mean two measures would pass which would make it all but impossible to wean the EU off fossil gas.

First, to the funding of fossil-gas infrastructure. Draft proposals could mean millions in public money would go towards building pipelines and terminals to transport gas across the continent, where it will be burned, and where it will continue to heat the planet.

It's much harder to burn gas if you can't transport it to where it would be burned, it's much harder to transport it if you don't build pipelines, and it's much harder to build pipelines if you don't fund them. The European Commission knows this – which is why it has proposed finally ending subsidies for gas pipelines and terminals.

There's only one way to vote here if you're serious about stopping climate breakdown as a matter of urgency.

Second, Bergkvist will not oppose measures which would ensure the continued burning and transportation of fossil gas, by boosting hydrogen transportation. There's nothing wrong with hydrogen per se, but some MEPs appear to have fallen for the fossil fuel industry's spin here – the proposed plans would fund projects that transport hydrogen, which is produced by burning fossil gas.

Moreover, these projects would allow large volumes of fossil gas to be transported for use as fuel at the same time as the hydrogen – a process known as "blending".

It's another loophole to lock in demand for fossil gas.

At the same time, the Left's rapporteur Pereira has also promoted gas in TEN-E. Hailing from Portugal, Pereira believes the EU should continue to support gas because the sector is supposed to create jobs.

That Portugal's only prospective gas pipeline cannot be built because connecting pipes in Spain and France have been cancelled and will thus generate no jobs does not appear to have swayed the MEP.

Push has come to shove. The Socialists and the Left are not alone in their support for gas – a majority of MEPs in the ITRE committee are dancing to ECR's gaseous tune. But a switch in position from the two groups could turn things around.

And unless a majority of MEPs back the binding measures we need to get the EU off fossil gas, any declaration of a climate emergency will at best be empty rhetoric, and at worst a cynical gesture to trick the public into thinking that they're going to help.

Author bio

Tara Connolly is senior gas campaigner at Global Witness.

Disclaimer

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

EU ambassadors divided over prolonging gas funding

EU ambassadors have failed to reach an agreement over whether cross-border natural gas projects should continue to receive EU funding, under the TEN-E regulation, which is currently under revision.

Portugal under fire for backtracking on gas funding

A group of member states is seeking to prolong EU funding for cross-border natural gas projects - contrary to the European Commission's plans to remove all support for such infrastructure, according to a draft document seen by EUobserver.

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.

Lead energy MEP silent on gas meetings before vote

NGO watchdogs have slammed the MEP leading the energy committee's work on the controversial revision of EU rules for funding major energy projects for refusing to disclose his meetings with gas lobbyists, ahead of a crucial vote next week.

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