LONDON — The European Union has adopted an ambitious climate law aimed at reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.
This is a huge reduction, and it raises a crucial question: how much and for how long will the bloc of 27 countries depend on gas to achieve this goal, and how quickly will it move away of all fossil fuels?
Natural gas, more accurately described as methane gas or fossil gas, produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal, but far more than wind and solar.
So should gas be called “green?” This is exactly what the executive of the European Union has proposed. This is also what I want to discuss in today’s newsletter, so I contacted Matina Stevis-Gridneff, the Times bureau chief in Brussels.
The measure must be voted on in Parliament on Wednesday, and it is more than just a question of labeling. If the proposal passes, Matina said, it means European governments, companies and banks will be able to subsidize or channel cheap loans to gas projects.
Gas currently accounts for a quarter of the electricity in the European Union and almost all of its heat. Most of that gas comes from Russia, but European policymakers are scrambling to get gas from elsewhere, including the United States, to wean the continent off Russian fuel.
Beyond the immediate political decision facing European lawmakers, gas faces a calculus: how much should the world depend on gas, for how long, and who should be able to burn that gas? The direction that wealthy, industrialized Europe takes this week will undoubtedly affect other countries.
What are the arguments for and against?
The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, claims that gas is a low-carbon fuel, which is correct compared to coal. The commission said it would closely monitor gas projects and allow banks and governments to offer them cheaper loans.
Officials call this a pragmatic approach. “There is also a need for stable sources to accelerate the transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” the commission said when presenting the proposal last year.
But not everyone buys that.
A broad coalition of European lawmakers say the move is counterproductive and goes against the substance of Europe’s commitments to carbon neutrality. There is widespread opposition to the proposal to classify gas, as well as nuclear energy, as green energy.
In fact, the Commission’s ability to secure Parliament’s blessing on Wednesday hangs in the balance. At Matina’s last count, the legislation was about 20 votes short of the majority it needed to pass.
Opponents instead want Europe to step up its efforts to expand renewable energy sources.
“Everyone knows now that we should get rid of all the incentives that lead to more fossil gas exploration,” said Bas Eickhout, a senior member of the European Parliament who represents an alliance of green and regional parties. “By labeling fossil gas ‘green’, the EU is sending a dire message to the private sector and the rest of the world that gas would be just as legitimate as renewables.
Would the EU measure reduce reliance on Russia?
The measure would allow the European Union as well as individual European governments and the private sector to rally behind new gas pipelines and immediately import liquefied gas from overseas.
Russia has skillfully used its gas as leverage against Europe. It has cut gas deliveries to the continent in the past two weeks, prompting Germany to reincorporate coal into its energy mix and consider power rationing. European policymakers are increasingly arguing that this proposal will allow them to quickly gather the necessary funds to build more gas-based energy projects to reduce their dependence on Russia.
European policy makers are quite frank about this choice.
“The overriding strategic decision is to wean ourselves off Russian oil and gas,” Frans Timmermans, European Union vice-president for energy and climate, told Matina and I in an interview at the end of May at the Economic Forum. in Davos, Switzerland. “We cannot depend on Russian energy supplies.”
Should the big polluters in history, like Europe, use gas?
The gas debate is not just about whether there is room for gas in a net zero future. It’s about who is producing these shows. So part of the global gas argument is who should increase fossil fuel production and for what purpose.
Africa faces a huge demand for new sources of energy. Several countries also have vast gas reserves there. Should they be able to develop their own resources for their own industrial growth? There is a debate in Africa about this. Expect to hear more about this in future newsletters.
So far, what we have seen is something else: European countries are courting African countries to send its liquefied gas on ships to heat and power European homes.
The essentials of The Times news
Cities and States are stepping up: As climate action stagnates at the national level, local action has become even more crucial in tackling climate change. Communities are up to the task.
Companies to pay the bill: A landmark law in California requires plastic manufacturers to pay for recycling and work to reduce or eliminate the manufacture of single-use packaging.
An Ongoing Calamity: In many parts of the world, fuel prices have risen even more sharply than in the United States, and the resulting misery is far more acute.
Less leverage in the US: President Biden’s weakened position at home makes it difficult for the United States to persuade other nations to take decisive climate action.
A lesson from the EPA decision: When Congress struggles to pass legislation, the Supreme Court becomes more powerful. Climate action is a good example.
Two Americas: When it comes to climate change, abortion, gun rights and more, the country’s northeast and west coasts are moving in the opposite direction to its midsection and southeast.
Coastal drilling: The Biden administration’s new plan for offshore oil and gas projects allows for new lease sales. It is likely to anger environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry.
Before you go: an endurance test becomes even more difficult
The Tour Divide, a cycling race from the Canadian Rockies to the US border with Mexico, has always been a test of courage. But extreme weather conditions make it much more dangerous. Along the 2,700-mile route, cyclists frequently face flash floods, landslides, high winds and wildfires. “I feel like anything can happen,” said Sofiane Sehili, a rider from Paris who won this year’s tour. “So, yes, definitely climate change. You can see that on this race.
Thanks for reading. We will be back on Friday.
Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
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