The Green Brief: Quitting Russian fossil fuels is only half the challenge

Subscribe to EURACTIV's Green Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe.

Greetings and welcome to EURACTIV’s Green Brief. Below you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe. You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.

Faced with war, high energy prices and a climate crisis, Europe needs to untangle itself from Russian fossil fuels asap.

Today, the European Commission will table its plan to break free from its energy dependence on Russia. From what we’ve seen so far, it will likely be comprised of the following:

By the end of the year, the European Commission wants to slash dependence on Russian gas by two thirds, with the aim of getting completely rid of it possibly by 2027 and in any case “well before 2030”. Meanwhile, sanctions are already in place for coal and are currently being discussed for oil.

But getting off Russian fossil fuels is only half the challenge. Ultimately, it’s not just about Russia. At some point, the EU is going to have to drop its fossil fuel crutch altogether in order to meet its legally-binding objective of cutting emissions down to net-zero by 2050.

The leaked proposals seen by EURACTIV show that the European Commission is aware of the need to ditch fossil fuels. Even when it talks about diversification of gas supplies, the Commission has the understanding that this needs to be future-ready.

“As the EU’s gas demand will contract at a faster pace than earlier expected and in order to minimise the risk of stranded investments and assets, the EU will favour diversification strategies that encompass both gas and green hydrogen investments,” according to a leak of the international energy strategy seen by EURACTIV.

The leaked strategy looks to the US, Canada, Egypt and Israel for liquified natural gas (LNG) supplies and Norway, Algeria and Azerbaijan for pipeline gas supplies.

But even the mighty US cannot replace the 155bcm of gas that the EU imports every year from Russia. This was highlighted by US President Joe Biden, after he passed a deal on 25 March to supply Europe with an additional 50bcm of LNG per year until 2030.

Europe and the US are not just going to work together to replace Russian gas, he remarked. “[We] are going to work together to take concrete measures to reduce dependence on natural gas — period,” he said

The Commission itself is very aware of the climate impact that replacing Russian gas could have. For instance, potential methane leaks from gas infrastructure pose huge risks to the climate.

To tackle this, “the EU will aim to ensure that additional gas supplies from existing and new gas suppliers are coupled with targeted actions to tackle methane leaks and to address venting and flaring, creating additional liquidity on global markets, while ensuring significant climate benefits,” the leaked communication reads.

“Aims” and “favours”, however, are not enough to impress environmental NGOs.

“By failing to appreciate the urgent need to phase out fossil gas altogether, Europe looks set to further entangle the rest of the world in its web of fossil fuel dependency while throwing out empty endorsements on the need for a rapid transition to clean energy,” Eilidh Robb from Friends of the Earth Europe told EURACTIV.

What the communication also fails to mention is the price tag likely to be attached to that gas. Europe is unlikely to ever see a return to the cheap gas it had in the days of complacency around Russia.

The real cost-cutting actions lie in the other element of the European Commission’s plan: renewables and energy efficiency. However, there’s a lot of work that remains to be done there.

For instance, while it proposes increasing the EU’s renewable energy target to 45%, the Commission is short on detail about the turnaround this will entail when it comes to reinforcing power grid infrastructure and permitting procedures.

Heating and cooling, which accounts for half of the EU’s energy consumption, are also barely touched upon in the leaked package, although the Commission’s communication does include a major push to roll-out heat pumps. 

Energy efficiency is also a tricky subject. On paper, it is a brilliant way to ditch Russian gas and create jobs while tackling climate change and energy poverty.

But energy efficiency measures tend to rub against EU countries’ sovereignty. And the leaked draft shows that the EU executive could shy away from increasing the target it proposed in July, instead leaving the job to EU countries and the European Parliament.

“The Commission therefore invites the co-legislators to amend the 2021 recast proposal to increase the binding target in the Energy Efficiency Directive to at least 13%,” according to the leaked REPowerEU communication.

There are still many unanswered questions around the package. But one thing is for sure: while the EU can look for alternative suppliers of fossil gas, it will struggle to look for alternative planets to inhabit if it cannot tackle the hard questions around fighting climate change.

– Kira Taylor


Today’s edition is powered by FEAD.

FEAD’s Biennial Conference & 40th Anniversary

From circular economy to the fight against climate change

FEAD will be proudly celebrating its 40th anniversary during its Biennial Conference in a HYBRID event dedicated to our holistic approach to waste management, from circular economy to climate change. After we will host a reception to celebrate FEAD’s anniversary.

 Register Here >>


This week’s top stories

More stories


News from the capitals

BERLIN. Nord Stream-funded German foundation to be dissolved. The ‘climate’ foundation, which received €20 million from Nord Stream 2 AG, and was used by the German state home to the Russian pipeline, to potentially circumvent US sanctions, is to be dismantled. Read more.

HELSINKI. Record number of Finns now favour nuclear to go green. A record number of Finns favour nuclear power, a fresh survey commissioned by Finnish Energy has found, citing fighting climate change as the main reason. Read more. 

ROME. Italy’s Eni starts procedures to pay for Russian gas in euros and roubles. Italian energy giant Eni has started procedures to open accounts in euros and roubles with private Russian bank Gazprombank, the company announced on Tuesday. Read more. 

BRATISLAVA. Slovak oil embargo exemption to benefit Hungarian MOL, not citizens. The oil embargo exemption Slovakia is asking for will not benefit citizens but the owner of the only Slovak oil refinery, Slovnaft, a subsidiary of Hungarian MOL, analysts point out. Read more. 

TIRANA | SOFIA. Bulgaria and Albania set ground for new gas corridor. A Memorandum of Understanding for the gasification of Albania was signed this week between three companies in the presence of Prime Minister Edi Rama and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signalling the start of a new potential natural gas corridor between Albania and Bulgaria. Read more. 

ZAGREB. Croatia moves to boost own energy production, says minister. Croatia currently meets only 21% of its energy needs and is moving towards increasing its own production capacities, Energy Minister Davor Filipović told state broadcaster HRT on Tuesday. Read more. 

PRAGUE. Czechia to set up new state energy trader for cheap supplies. The Czech Republic wants to establish a new “state energy trader” that would secure cheap energy supplies for the state and replace the private companies currently in charge of purchasing gas and other fuels. Read more.

BRATISLAVA | WARSAW. Gazprom did not reserve gas transit capacity for June via Slovakia, Poland. Gazprom decided not to renew its capacity share via the Yamal gas pipeline that runs through Poland nor the capacity transit via Slovakia for June, Czech press agency ČTK reported based on their findings of the results of an energy auction. Read more.

SOFIA | ATHENS. Bulgarian network connected to gas interconnector with Greece. The Bulgarian-Greek gas connection in Stara Zagora, which is already connected with the national gas transmission network of the Bulgarian state-owned company Bulgartransgaz, has successfully passed the pneumatic tests for strength, tightness and gas metering, ICGB, the company working on the project, announced on Monday. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovakia to develop geothermal energy to lower Russian energy dependency. Efforts to lower dependence on Russian energy are speeding up local geothermal projects in Slovakia that had been gaining traction before the invasion of Ukraine. Read more.

ROME. EU court condemns Italy for breaching bloc pollution rules. The Court of Justice in Luxembourg condemned Italy on Thursday for failing to comply with the EU’s air quality directive as some of its cities exceeded the allowed nitrogen dioxide levels. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria launches full investigation into Turkish Stream. Bulgaria will launch a full investigation into the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project that stretches through Bulgaria as it showcases how Russia uses corruption as a foreign policy tool, announced Prime Minister Kiril Petkov on Thursday. Read more.

WARSAW. Poles ready for Russian shutdown of Yamal gas pipeline. The Polish government says it is ready to disconnect Poland from Russian gas, as no Russian gas has arrived since 27 April via the Yamal pipeline that runs through the country. Read more.

BERLIN. Berlin inches closer to expropriating Gazprom assets. Following the Russian announcement of sanctions against 31 European utilities, including Gazprom Germania, the German government is inching closer to expropriating the German Gazprom subsidiary and related assets. Read more.

BRUSSELS | KYIV. EU source: Ukraine just sped up EU’s will to cut off Russian gas. Ukraine’s decision to suspend the gas flow through a transit point that it said delivers almost a third of the fuel piped from Russia to Europe through Ukraine is a “logical consequence” of Russia’s atrocities, an EU source told EURACTIV.com. The same source also rejected criticism regarding the delays in adopting the sixth sanctions package against Moscow, stressing that it makes sense and that Europe has reacted at record speed so far. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria to replace Russian gas supply with cheaper US LNG. Bulgaria will receive supplies of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) at prices lower than Gazprom’s starting in June, according to a deal struck between Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and US Vice President Kamala Harris, the government’s press service said on Wednesday. Read more.

ZAGREB. Croatia could become Central Europe’s energy hub, says PM. Croatia could become an “energy hub in the northern Adriatic” as Europe seeks to wean itself off Russian energy, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said during a visit to Cyprus on Wednesday. Read more.

PRAGUE. Czechia plans LNG imports from Baltics by train. Czech state fuel distributor Čepro is ready to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the country so gas could be transported from the Baltics by train. Read more.


News in brief

EU nears agreement on gas storage obligation. After 16 hours of talks on Monday (16 May), EU countries and the European Parliament failed to come to an agreement on a gas storage obligation that would mandate a certain level of storage to be filled each year, starting on 1 November 2022. 

It was hoped that this first “trilogue” negotiation could reach agreement, particularly given the urgency of the legislation, but the issue will now have to go back to EU ambassadors on Wednesday ahead of what is hoped to be the final trilogue on Thursday.

Before the trilogue, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV that EU governments had come to an agreement on an obligation of 80% storage this year and 90% in the following years. EU countries also agreed that countries without any or with little gas storage would have access to gas and those with lots of storage wouldn’t face disproportionate costs when helping others out. 

Another diplomat said remaining issues relate to the “filling trajectories” for 2022 and how binding these will be, given that the regulation will not come into force before June. Individual trajectories will be decided for each member state this year and inserted into the legislation, the diplomat explained. For subsequent years, it will be decided by the European Commission via implementing acts.

Another issue relates to member states like Austria and Latvia, which have high storage capacity (100% and 200% of their annual consumption, respectively) and would be required to “contribute disproportionately” to the EU effort. For those countries, a refill cap of 35% of their annual consumption is being considered, the diplomat said. And member states without storage would be requested to contribute to at least 15% of their annual consumption.

(Kira Taylor & Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com)

////

EU, US agree closer cooperation on green product standards, procurement. The EU-US trade and technology council held a ministerial meeting in Paris on 16 May, at the conclusion of which a 47-page joint statement was adopted covering areas mainly related to digital.

The conclusions of the “climate and clean tech” working group are worth a read. In them, the two sides agreed to focus on three areas: “promoting green public procurement policies”, “aligning methodologies for calculating the carbon footprint of selected products”, and “advancing electro-mobility and interoperability with smart grids”.

Deliverables expected in 2023-2024 include “a joint EU-US initiative incorporating sustainability considerations in public procurement” and the development of “a common methodology for joint EU-US recommendations on selected carbon-intensive products,” the statement says.

Sarah Jackson from climate think-tank E3G was excited about the focus on green procurement. “So far, it sounds like it will be an exchange on best practices, it’ll be interesting to see how the working group deals with the more thorny issues around clean procurement like domestic content requirements,” she told EURACTIV. “We’re also interested in how the TTC interacts with global initiatives around clean procurement, like the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative (IDDI), which the US hasn’t joined yet.

One gap flagged by Jackson is on green subsidies and trade defence measures. “In a previous draft, there was language on a commitment to refrain from trade defence measures targeting either side’s green and energy transition support schemes. The language was eventually dropped from the joint statement and it’s a bit unclear which side is responsible for pulling the language,” she said. Another gap is how the TTC will interact with other countries.

On carbon measurement methodologies, Jackson said she expects those to focus initially on carbon-intensive products like steel and cement, which are covered by the EU’s upcoming carbon border adjustment mechanism. “It remains to be seen how this workstream will link up with the technical group on methodologies for the EU-US Global Arrangement on Steel and Aluminium, although in stakeholder meetings, EU officials have said they will be joined up,” she said.

Joint statement available here. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com)

////

Mystery leak on ETS published on Commission website, with typos. A mysterious document related to the number of carbon allowances on the EU’s emissions trading scheme’s market stability reserve was posted, seemingly by accident, on the official website of the European Commission.

The document was swiftly met with criticism by Thierry Bros, a teacher at Science Po university in Paris, who pointed out that the numbers didn’t add up. “Commission so used to leak document that it now publishes leaks on its official web,” he joked.

The Commission fixed this issue only several days after, writing on Twitter: “There is indeed a typo in the MSR [market stability reserve] holdings figure. The correct figure is 9 allowances lower, now corrected to 2.632.682.062 allowances.”

The link was removed but we managed to save a copy here. Read Bros’s analysis here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

////

Inclusion of gas and nuclear in EU’s green taxonomy could bring billions to Russia. The incorporation of fossil gas and nuclear energy into the EU’s green finance taxonomy could provide extensive benefits to Russia, according to a report published by Greenpeace France. 

The Greenpeace report estimates a gain of €4 billion per year for Russia with the inclusion of gas, while for the state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, potential new investments could reach €500 billion in total.

“As the EU Commission gets ready to unveil its RePowerEU plan to break free from Russian energy dependence, rejecting gas and nuclear from the taxonomy is an obvious move that MEPs can take to show Putin that he has written Russia out of Europe’s energy future.” Says Ariadna Rodrigo, Greenpeace EU sustainable finance campaigner. Read the full report here. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)

////

Packaging legislation takes next step towards publication. The packaging and packaging waste directive, due to be published in July, has been delivered to the Regulatory Scrutiny Board, a representative from the European Commission told the European Parliament last week. But already, there are concerns from some industries about the EU executive’s plan for the law, with the plastics bottle industry warning against mandatory recycled content targets across the board for plastics. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)


Opinions


Upcoming events

24 MAY. #EAPolitics Twitter chat | Debating Europe’s future IV – climate change, environment and health. The Conference on the Future of Europe has been launched to allow citizens from the 27 member states to discuss and suggest policy proposals through local events, panels, and an online platform, in order to shape the Future of Europe. EURACTIV took this opportunity to launch its “Debating Europe’s future” Twitter Chat. This last edition, which will tackle the “Climate change, environment and health” panel, following the citizens’ session. Details here.

14 JUNE. Does Germany need a new forest policy? Potential and problems of the forest strategy 2050. Germany is one of the most densely forested countries in Europe with forests making up almost 30% of the total area. Former agricultural minister Julia Klöckner put the 2050 forest strategy in place, which included the economic use of wood. With the new German government in place, must it revamp the forest strategy? Join MEP Ulrike Müller, DG ENVI’s Stefanie Schmidt, German MP Tessa Ganserer and the expert for forest ecology, Nicole Wellbrock, with additional speakers to be announced soon, to find out more. Programme and registration here. The event will be in German. (Supported by Life Terra)

15 June. Mind the gap – can biofuels play a strategic role in reaching EU energy and food security? Join this EURACTIV Hybrid Conference to discuss how the EU can maintain its commitment to achieving Fit for 55 climate and energy goals in an uncertain geopolitical situation. And what is the evolving role of low-carbon renewable fuels in achieving EU climate and energy goals. Programme and registration here. (Supported by ePURE).


On our radar

18 MAY. The European Commission will present its REPowerEU plan to break away from Russian fossil fuels, including:

  • An updated Renewable Energy Directive with a higher target for 2030 and faster permitting rules
  • A solar strategy that could make rooftop solar mandatory in all buildings (more)

This combines with a new “international partnerships and energy package”, consisting of:

  • A new strategy on international energy engagement
  • A joint Communication on a partnership with the Gulf

25-27 MAY. Meeting of G7 climate and energy ministers.

6-9 JUNE. The European Parliament will debate and vote on eight of the key Fit for 55 files. Read the full agenda here.

7 JUNE. Joint Communication on international ocean governance.

15 JUNE. 2022 Strategic Foresight Report.

22 JUNE. Nature protection package (tbc):

  • Sustainable use of pesticides – revision of the EU rules
  • Protecting biodiversity: nature restoration targets 

27 JUNE. Energy Council.

28 JUNE. Environment Council.

5 JULY. New design requirements and consumer rights for electronics (tbc).

20 JULY. Circular Economy Package 2:

  • Policy framework for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics
  • Review of the Packaging and packaging waste directive to reinforce the essential requirements for packaging and establish EU level packaging waste prevention measures and targets
  • Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment directive
  • Proposal for a Regulation on substantiating environmental claims using the Product/ Organisation Environmental Footprint methods (green claims)

20 JULY. Development of post-Euro 6/VI emission standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe