EU energy infrastructure plans may undermine EU climate change goals
[Brussels, 14 October 2013] Today the European Commission announced hundreds of energy infrastructure projects to be constructed across Europe, starting this year . These include gas storage terminals and pipelines, ‘pumped storage’ hydropower projects and major power lines. These plans may compromise Europe’s efforts to limit the impacts of climate change.
Just days after scientists said the threat of climate change is clearer than ever , the EU is promoting major fossil fuels energy projects - to be labelled projects of European ‘common interest’ (PCIs)  - including a controversial offshore natural gas terminal in Northern Italy.
Martina Mlinaric, Senior Policy Officer for Biodiversity, Water and Soil Protection at the EEB said, “These plans are presented as tools to, amongst other things, facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy, yet some of the projects could actually compromise Europe’s efforts to limit the impacts of climate change by undermining resilience.” She added “Transparency and participation in the process was ‘too little, too late’ to have any effect on the decision that had just been taken.”
We need secure energy supplies, but making it easier to import gas and oil may not square with Europe’s ambitions to be a world leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The consultancy firm that was responsible for assessing the need for gas infrastructure PCIs has described the assumptions about future gas demand as ‘aggressive’ . Gas demand is assumed to grow at almost twice the rate estimated by the International Energy Agency. The European Commission’s own figures assume gas demand will actually fall, as Europe seeks to cut its carbon emissions by 80-95% by mid century.
In addition, the negative environmental impacts of some of these projects might actually lead to reducing natural resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change and increase the vulnerability of people, and consequently the costs of combating the impacts of climate change.
Ivan Scrase, Senior Climate Change Policy Officer at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) said, “We have to tackle climate change, secure our energy supplies and protect nature. We need some major energy investments, and that requires popular support. There are no contradictions in all this. But what we don’t need is lists containing lots of controversial projects drawn up hastily behind closed doors.”
A number of the projects will have major impacts on local communities, wildlife and industries such as tourism, and as such may compromise local communities’ livelihoods. For example the electricity PCI list includes a project creating reservoirs in a pristine area of the Austrian Alps.
It is Europe’s citizens who will ultimately have to pay for the investments. Some trade-offs and impacts may be inevitable, but critics say these have not been openly discussed and some projects look particularly questionable. The level of secrecy involved in drawing up these lists has been strongly criticised by environmental NGOs such as the European Environmental Bureau, BirdLife and WWF in letters to the European Commission .
Martina Mlinaric concluded, “The PCI label should be used sparingly, where it is really needed and truly deserved. The EU should at least strive to promote a coherent vision for Europe’s energy future, and build support for well-justified plans.”
The Commission will now transmit the proposed delegated act, including the PCI list, to Member States (the Council of the European Union) and the European Parliament for their consideration. They will not be able to change the list however, only agree to or reject it.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest federation of environmental citizens’ organisations. It is the environmental voice of European citizens, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy. Our aim is to ensure the EU secures a healthy environment and rich biodiversity for all.
BirdLife Europe is a Partnership of nature conservation organisations in 49 countries, including all EU Member States, and a leader in bird conservation. Through its unique local to global approach BirdLife Europe delivers high impact and long term conservation for the benefit of nature and people.
Notes to the editor:
1. European Commission announcement and link to the list of projects
2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ar5/press_release_ar5_wgi_en.pdf
3. European Commission web page on energy projects of common interest
4. Gas PCIs consultants’ report
A report to the European Commission by consultants Booz & Company assessed the eligibility of candidate PCIs submitted by developers and national governments. The report is entitled “MARKET ANALYSIS AND PRIORITIES FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF THE GAS MARKETS AND INFRASTRUCTURE UNDER THE NORTH SOUTH GAS INTERCONNECTIONS IN WESTERN EUROPE, SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE AND THE BALTIC SEA REGION”, and dated April 18 2013.
The scenario for gas demand chosen by the decision makers is described in the report as “aggressive given the recent developments of European gas market” (p.36).
A graph in the report (Figure 2, reproduced below from p. 10 in the report) shows that need for the gas PCIs is justified by assuming gas demand will increase by 1.1% each year to 2030. In contrast, the International Energy Agency estimates EU demand will grow by just 0.6% per annum over the same period. The European Commission’s own figures assume gas demand will actually fall by 0.3% per annum.
The consultants state “....the chosen demand scenario has a significant impact on needs for (additional) infrastructure by 2030. A high demand scenario will overestimate the need for infrastructure and a low scenario will underestimate this need.” (p.9).
This “aggressive” demand assumption is therefore not in line with recent evidence, expert opinion or the European Commission’s own assumptions. This calls into question whether all of the gas PCIs are in fact needed, or in line with Europe’s plans for future evolution of the energy market.
5. EEB, BirdLife and WWF letter to the European Commission
Link available at:
a) Northern Adriatic:
In a very fragile ecosystem in the Northern Adriatic, Italy wants to build a new terminal to store natural gas brought in on ships from all over the world. Local and environmental groups, as well as the Slovenian government have fiercely opposed the project, fearing it will cause pollution in the Gulf of Trieste and that there could be a major industrial accident in future. Even the Italian government is in two minds about the project - their Environment Minister in April suspended its environmental permit.
b) The Alps:
In one of the last pristine areas remaining in the Alps, Austria wants to flood land and divert glacial rivers into tunnels to create a ‘pumped storage’ facility. This would use surplus electricity to pump water up the mountain, and release it again to generate power when it’s needed. A neat idea, perhaps, but NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace and BirdLife argue this cannot be the right location, since the nearly untouched nature of this high alpine valley would be irreversibly impacted. The project could also damage livelihoods of tourist operators in that area. Even the first report on possible impacts prepared for Tyrolean provincial government seriously questions whether the project could go ahead without breaching EU nature and water protection laws.
The Norwegian Government opposed an electricity transmission line from the UK, because their energy laws do not allow private developers to own grid assets there. Yet the UK government insisted the private developer behind the project must get the ‘common interest’ status for the interconnector.
Martina Mlinaric, EEB Senior Policy Officer for Biodiversity, Water and Soil Protection, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: +32 (0) 476 972 050
Ivan Scrase, Senior Climate Change Policy Officer at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) email: Ivan.Scrase@rspb.org.uk, phone: +44 (0) 7738 736612
Alison Abrahams:EEB Communications Officer +32 (0) 2289 13 09 Mobile: +32 489 304 962 email@example.com
Caroline Jacobsson, Head of Communications & Marketing, BirdLife Europe - Phone: +32 (0)2 238 50 94, email: firstname.lastname@example.org