This year we have seen devastating hurricanes and floods, deadly wildfires, and other extreme climate catastrophes. But rather than facing up to the problem and focusing on renewable energy and energy reduction, the European Union is locking itself into another 40-50 years of fossil fuel infrastructure.
A new report by Corporate Europe Observatory exposes the power of the gas industry lobby in Brussels, and the impact it has had on the EU’s energy policies. It explains who the big players are, the tactics used, and the role lobbying has played in the construction of new gas pipelines such as BP’s scandal-ridden mega-pipeline from Azerbaijan to Italy and MidCat, the Franco-Spanish interconnector.
According to the research, the gas industry:
- spent over €100 million in 2016 and had more than 1000 lobbyists on its payroll. Some of the biggest spenders are well-known polluters such as Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, who each declared up to €4.75 million last year.
- secured 460 meetings in the last three years with the Commissioner for Climate and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete, Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and their cabinets.
By contrast, public interest groups working to stop the new generation of gas infrastructure:
- spent just three per cent (€3.4m) of the gas industry’s lobbying budget.
- have one tenth of the lobbyists (101)
- secured one ninth of the meetings (51) with the two European Commissioners in charge of Climate and Energy policy in the last three years.
Across the industry, millions are spent on PR merchants and marketing campaigns to present gas as a ’clean’ and ’renewable’ fossil fuel, providing a ’bridge’ from coal to renewable energy, or a ’partner’ to unreliable renewables. But ‘natural’ gas is another name for methane, a greenhouse gas over 100 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a ten year period, and huge amounts of it leak into the atmosphere during drilling and transportation. Therefore it is equally as bad for the climate as coal, if not worse.
But industry influence has seen the Commission and national governments embark on a multi-billion euro gas infrastructure building programme. It is based on a list of ’Projects of Common Interest’ (PCIs, projects prioritised by the EU with boosted political and logistical backing) proposed by industry, refined by governments and finalised by the Commission. The PCI bi-annual update should happen before the year is out.
Current EU gas plans are not just a disaster for the climate, but also threaten to devastate the communities and environment around extraction and infrastructure sites. The fact that many of the governments lined up to supply the gas are involved in blatant human rights abuses casts further doubt on the trajectory of EU gas policy.
One example is the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), part of a mega-pipeline that would bring Azerbaijani gas to Italy via Greece and Albania. This PCI project has been met with resistance from local communities in each country. In Azerbaijan, those attempting to denounce the project are faced with repression and jail. Despite this, TAP and other pipelines, like the controversial Franco-Spanish MidCat, are receiving the highest level of political support from the European Commission.
Rather than transforming the energy system towards wind, sun, and wave power and reducing energy use, the might of the gas lobby is locking us into 40-50 more years of fossil fuels, making it impossible for the EU to live up to the promises it made two years ago at the UN climate summit in Paris. Ironically, more than 100 governments and civil society groups have been urging the UN to remove the fossil fuel industry from the talks due to their blatant conflict of interest in profiting from climate change, but Commissioner Cañete and the EU have been blocking.
We need to break the gas industry’s grip over policy-makers, particularly in Brussels. The EU needs to stop supporting the fossil fuel industry in the UN talks, and get behind those governments calling for a conflict of interest policy. That also means taking action at home and ending the current cosy relationship with the gas industry. The climate needs to come before industry profits, which means introducing a moratorium on all new gas projects until they are assessed against the EU’s commitment to keep global temperature rises to 1.5oC.
If not, either Europe will be locked into gas until the second half of this century, or its taxpayers will be left footing a bill racked up by the gas industry as the infrastructure becomes a stranded asset.
Download the full report here.