'Backwards Not Forward': Greens Slam 'Energy Union' Plan for Europe

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'Backwards Not Forward': Greens Slam 'Energy Union' Plan for Europe

'The EU risks throwing hundreds of billions of Euros into pipelines that it will have to decommission almost as soon as they come online because they contribute to climate change.'

The 'Energy Union' paper outlines Europe's energy strategy for the next years, but critics say it represent a recipe for disaster, not a path towards the renewable energy future Europe deserves. (Photo: Friends of the Earth Europe)

Environmentalists and climate action groups are slamming the European Commission's publication of a plan on Wednesday that calls for unifying the 28 energy markets of all EU member nations into a single entity.

Upon its passage, the Energy Commission's Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, of Slovakia, called the plan "undoubtedly the most ambitious energy project" since the inception of the EU and said it would "make Europe less energy dependent and give the predictability that investors so badly need to create jobs and growth."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President, said the proposal—which has been called the Juncker Plan—"is about Europe acting together, for the long term." He argues the unified system will fulfill his desire to make "the energy that underpins [European] economy to be resilient, reliable, secure and growingly renewable and sustainable."

Though the deal will now need to find approval among the member states and a full vote by the European Parliament, experts on climate and sustainable energy appear convinced that the details of the plan—as well as the rhetoric and logic of those supporting it—will not withstand proper scrutiny.

Citing specific aspects of the proposal they argue will further entrench the continent's reliance on fossil fuels, critics of the proposal were quick to point out that the 'Energy Union' plan would be taking the European Union backwards, not forward, on the path to a truly sustainable energy system.

Greenpeace called the energy plan "garbled" and claimed that for all the lofty rhetoric coming out of Brussels about taking the "lead on climate change" in recent years, the plan put forth by the Commission lays out a contradictory set of priorities when it comes to addressing global warming.  "The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing with this plan," said Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser Tara Connolly. "The Commission says the EU should move away from fossil fuels but it also wants to chase after new gas supplies and doesn’t rule out coal. Europe needs a coherent, joined-up plan if it’s going to play its part against climate change and be the world number one in renewables."

Brook Riley from Friends of the Earth Europe also expressed concern about the inclusion of new construction for liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals, new pipelines, and expanded infrastructure spending for coal-fired power plants.

"We keep hearing repetitions of gas, gas, gas," Riley said. "The EU risks throwing hundreds of billions of Euros into pipelines that it will have to decommission almost as soon as they come online because they contribute to climate change."

All of this comes as both world leaders and civil society members prepare for the next round of UN sponsored climate talks taking place in Paris later this year. Though governments have agreed to lowering their emissions in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C, climate action groups have repeatedly said that not even Europe—which has historically been out front in terms of renewable energy and other mitigation policies—has come close to meeting those targets.

As FOEE's Riley commented, "It's frustrating to see the European Commission say it's serious about tackling climate change, but gloss over the inadequacy of its own measures to transform Europe's energy system. The target European governments have agreed on for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is based on outdated science, and assumes a 50:50 chance at best of staying below 2°C global temperature increase. People must not be duped into believing the EU is taking genuine action on climate change."

Emma Hughes, from the UK-based group Platform London, added: "Juncker’s investment offensive is a disaster for the climate. The EU plans to throw public money at hundreds of dirty projects like the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline which, if built, would pump over a billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere during the next forty years – locking us into both fossil fuels and the brutal Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan regimes."

Dissent to the Commission plan also came from members of the European Parliament, many who argued that by centralizing energy policy, the European Commission is attempting to disrupt the democratic controls of national governments—supplanting the interests of local residents and energy consumers to those of the fossil fuel industry and other interests.

"The Commission is using the limits of state policies to impose its own liberalising agenda," said Spanish MEP Paloma Lopez in a statement. "Specific problems of highly-dependent states such as the Baltic countries or Cyprus become levers for projects which involve aggressive monopolising of resources with the development of mega private infrastructures that require a lot of demand to be profitable."

According to Lopez, "The Commission only pays lip service to energy saving and clean energy. In Spain, it's very difficult to believe that a transition is going to happen through market mechanisms. Forced liberalisation and overcapacity have particularly penalised renewables and have not helped to reduce CO2 emissions. This has also generated a great deal of legal insecurity and a lot of court cases are piling up. While this is good for oligopolies the effects are damaging for consumers."

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