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European Commission president

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talks during a press briefing on April 14, 2021 in Brussels. (Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

'Entirely Reckless': Critics Blast EU Plan to Boost Gas Infrastructure

"Deepening its own dependence on volatile fossil fuels" in response to Russia's attack on Ukraine, said one campaigner, "is the last thing Europe should be doing."

Jessica Corbett

"Woefully inadequate." "Entirely reckless." "Frankly unacceptable."

That's how climate campaigners responded Wednesday to a new plan from the European Commission—the E.U.'s executive arm—to ditch fossil fuels from Russia, which has been waging war on Ukraine for nearly three months.

"The commission's focus on swapping one source of dirty fuel with another keeps bankrolling environmental destruction and human rights abuses, and will lock in fossil gas for decades to come."

"The plan, called REPowerEU, is a package of documents, including legal acts, recommendations, guidelines, and strategies, that fleshes out a communication published in March," Politico summarized. "It's based on four pillars: saving energy, substituting Russian gas with other fossil fuels, boosting green energy, and financing new infrastructure like pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals."

Although the plan calls for increasing the bloc's renewable energy target for 2030 from 40% to 45%, Greenpeace E.U. noted that is "still below the 50% target that would be compatible with the Paris climate agreement's goal" of limiting global heating this century to 1.5°C.

REPowerEU is also under fire for its gas and hydrogen goals. As Politico detailed:

This year, Brussels said the bloc can replace 60 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian gas—last year it imported 155 bcm. That will be done by buying natural gas from other suppliers like the U.S., Egypt, Israel, and Gulf countries, producing more biomethane—made from animal manure, crops, and waste—and having coal and nuclear plants run longer hours.

By 2030, the hope is that 35 bcm of biomethane and 20 million tons of hydrogen will be on the market for the E.U. to use as well.

"The E.U. has been burned by its reliance on dirty Russian fuels, but now the European Commission is just searching for new fires to stick its hands in," said Greenpeace E.U. climate and energy campaigner Silvia Pastorelli in a statement.

"These plans will further line the pockets of energy giants like Saudi Aramco and Shell, who are making record profits on the back of the war, while people in Europe struggle to pay the bills," she warned. "The commission's focus on swapping one source of dirty fuel with another keeps bankrolling environmental destruction and human rights abuses, and will lock in fossil gas for decades to come."

Pastorelli's criticism and call for a just transition to clean energy were echoed by campaigners from across the globe—including Collin Rees of Oil Change International, who declared that "driving new gas infrastructure development in the United States and across the world while deepening its own dependence on volatile fossil fuels is the last thing Europe should be doing."

Landry Ninteretse, the Africa team lead at 350.org, slammed the E.U. for calling African countries "to open up more gas supplies to feed their fossil fuel addiction" as they "are faced with a multitude of interlinked and mutually reinforcing crises—climate impacts, water scarcity, energy poverty, insufficient food production, post-Covid impacts—leaving millions of people vulnerable and unable to meet their basic needs."

Lidy Nacpil of Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development framed the plan as the next chapter of European colonialism.

"Now is the time for renewables to be at the core of global energy policies. Ukraine is not just a wake-up call, it is an eye-opener in the heart of Europe."

"It is frankly unacceptable that Europe, in the midst of a war reminiscent of World War II, decided to perpetuate the model which led it down this frightening path," Nacpil said. "Sourcing gas in the midst of a climate crisis from parts of the world it has previously devastated through selfish interests is irresponsible and reprehensible."

"The opportunistic dangling of a quick cash cow before misguided leaders will only serve to perpetuate a toxic addiction to fossil fuels," she continued. "Europe should stop spreading the global death sentence oil and gas dependency represents. Instead, it should seize the opportunity to accelerate a transition which needed to have begun long ago."

Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and Oilwatch Africa similarly made the case that "now is the time for renewables to be at the core of global energy policies. Ukraine is not just a wake-up call, it is an eye-opener in the heart of Europe."

"Instead, the continent, like a drug addict, is turning to Africa in what simply amounts to a rash, stubborn, mindless, colonial pursuit of profit at the expense of people of Africa, the continent, and the entire planet," Bassey said. "We need to be thinking beyond the bottom line of those who have brought us to the brink of catastrophe. Anything less will be nothing other than willful climate and ecological crimes."

While welcoming "steps to invest in long-term solutions, like the rollout of heat pumps," Kieran Pradeep, energy poverty campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, also raised concern about how the plan will impact vulnerable Europeans and advocated for "action from governments to ensure the right to clean, affordable energy for all."

The new strategy is "out of touch with the everyday struggles of millions living in energy poverty who are anxiously waiting for an action plan for next winter," he said. "While REPowerEU's energy savings plan places the burden on individual behavior, the reality is many Europeans are already self-rationing energy."

"We have proven long-term solutions for people facing energy poverty, from access to subsidized renovations to renewables," Pradeep added, "but there's nothing new in this plan to show how access to these will be given to the people who need them most."


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