At their EU-US summit, European leaders warmly welcomed American gas. Under the guise of promoting energy security, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are rooting for shale gas, a fossil fuel with comparable climate impacts to coal, writes Brook Riley.
Brook Riley is climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
This week’s EU-US summit press conference reminded me how powerful a speaker Obama is. As he, Barroso and Van Rompuy condemned Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, I found myself fantasising about what it would be like if they used the same tough language on climate (in)action.
“It’s a disgrace and we will not support it”, said Van Rompuy. “Unacceptable actions will bear very serious consequences”, warned Barroso. “The crisis has pointed to the need to get moving now, with a sense of urgency”, declared Obama. “There’s no easy free way to defend ourselves”, he added.
That's the spirit we need to address global warming! This week, with little fanfare, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will finalise its report on climate impacts. We know what it will say: over the next years and decades, we can expect increasingly chaotic weather, food shortages, widespread biodiversity loss and huge economic costs. We've never needed bold leadership more than we do now.
But – brutal reality check – global warming and action to cut emissions were barely touched upon during the press conference. Instead, the three leaders devoted most of their energy to praising shale gas as an alternative to dependency on Russian exports.
"It's good that the US is putting shale gas on the international market", enthused Barroso, making it sound like a 21st century Marshall Plan. "It's a blessing for the rest of the world".
It's certainly a blessing for the shale gas lobby. I bet the champagne corks were popping yesterday evening. Under the guise of promoting energy security, EU and US leaders are rooting for a fossil fuel with comparable climate impacts to coal.
This is totally at odds with their climate commitments. Climate action is the biggest priority of our time, but, based on analysis from the European Commission, the EU is currently leaning towards a target to reduce emissions by just 40% by 2030. This is held up as ambitious and in line with scientific evidence. In fact, it's based on seven year old United Nations data and assumes a fifty-fifty chance of devastating environmental impacts. Worse, it now turns out the Commission preferred to rig its own analysis on the 2030 dossier to 'justify' 40%, rather than fight for higher climate ambition and targets for energy efficiency and renewables.
The excuse is that 40% is the best the EU can do in today's political climate. "You need to get real", one senior Commission official lectured me. But it's disgraceful defeatism. EU leaders might convince themselves 40% is enough, but as the United Nations’ report will show, they can't fool Mother Earth. The reckoning, when it comes, will be a lot harder to deal with than Mr Putin.