Jun 07, 2022
Let's be brutally honest here, fossil gas is a climate killer. But that's not its only problem. Gas is also fuelling the Russian war on Ukraine, it's expensive, causing millions of Europeans to worry about heating up their homes, and it's dangerous for our health. So why does the European Union want to label it 'green' and funnel billions of public money into it?
Gas: the war enabler
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, EU member states have paid over 60 billion euros for Russian fossil fuels. Gas is a large part of this package, with EU member states paying some 200-300 million euros per day for Russian gas alone. In contrast to the EU embargoes on coal and oil imports from Russia, a similar embargo on gas is nowhere to be seen. The humanitarian crisis and the atrocities of war in Ukraine are tangible, soul-wrenching evidence that a policy of reliance on Russian fossil fuels was bound for failure.
Gas, the climate killer
36% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe comes from fossil gas, making it the largest source of greenhouse gases on the continent, even before oil. A large part of these emissions are related to methane, the main constituent of fossil gas, which is 80 times more potent than CO2 in contributing to planetary warming.
The recent scandal unveiled by Greenpeace Croatia is a perfect example of the attitude fossil fuel companies have when it comes to their environmental responsibility. In December 2020 Croatian INA (controlled by Hungarian MOL) literally 'lost' a 65-metre high gas rig in the Adriatic Sea. It turned out that the rig was washed away by a storm and lies at the bottom of the sea, forgotten by its owner. In June 2022, one and a half years after the mysterious disappearance, Greenpeace Croatia unveiled that the sunken gas rig not only has not been cleared from the bottom of the Adriatic, but that there is deeply harmful methane still leaking from the wreck.
Gas, the poverty enhancer
Our dependence on gas is also a major factor of increasing energy poverty in Europe. Many Europeans rely on gas to heat their homes, and struggle to pay their energy bills. In 2019 an estimated 50 million households in the European Union lived in energy poverty and experienced inadequate levels of essential energy services. Between December 2020 and December 2021, consumer energy prices in the euro area for electricity, gas and other fuels increased by 25%. Since the start of the war in Ukraine the energy crisis in the EU has further intensified. As heating is the largest part of our energy bills, this leaves many living in fear for the coming winter.
Gas, the health hazard
Buildings are the biggest consumer of fossil gas in Europe. What we often don't realise when using gas in our homes is that it is actually a major health hazard. Gas appliances are a source of air pollutants, which can cause asthma and other respiratory diseases. Gas heating can also be deadly: In Italy, the second largest consumer of fossil gas in Europe, gas caused 153 accidents, killing 23 and injuring 308 in 2019 alone.
Gas, the great greenwasher
Despite this overwhelming evidence, European politicians are still falling for the fossil fuel industry's greenwashing, calling gas the 'bridging fuel' that will eventually lead to clean energy. The EU still hasn't introduced an embargo against Russian fossil gas imports in response to the Ukrainian war. Meanwhile, the EU Commission has proposed the RePowerEU package, a collection of measures which aims at 'reducing Europe's reliance on Russian gas by diversifying supply, energy savings and a faster rollout of renewables'.
The problem is that all these measures will achieve is to substitute Russian gas with gas from other sources: Europe will still rely on this climate killer. This is evident from the EU's proposal to assign gas a 'green label' in the EU taxonomy. A green label for fossil gas will translate into streamlined investment into further gas infrastructure in Europe. Investing more public money into fossil gas will create a lock-in effect. Instead of building a lasting energy security through renewables and energy efficiency, we will spend billions of euros on gas pipelines, gas power plants and gas terminals.
EU, wake up!
EU leaders must keep in mind that every cubic metre of fossil gas used is fueling the climate crisis and posing a threat to our health and energy security, regardless of where it originates. It will always pose a threat to our health and energy security. Luckily, clean solutions like solar, wind, heat pumps, and home insulation or electrification are now mature and can be used across Europe to reduce demand for fossil gas. If we want to stay on track for 1.5 degrees and secure a liveable climate for all, we need to phase out gas in the EU by 2035 at the latest. It is within our reach and the only thing between us and ending gas is political will. Political leaders must finally realise that we will never be safe in a world fuelled with fossil fuels.
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