EU failed to properly assess climate risk of gas projects, watchdog says

Emily O'Reilly, EU Ombudsman [European Parliament / Flickr]

The European Commission granted priority status to natural gas projects without properly assessing their impact on climate change, the European Union’s Ombudsman said in a decision on Tuesday (17 November).

The EU Ombudsman launched an inquiry in February into the Commission’s process for approving fossil fuel projects as “Projects of Common Interest” (PCI) – a label that means they can receive funding from the bloc and fast-tracked permits.

In the conclusion of its inquiry, the Ombudsman said the Commission’s sustainability assessments of gas projects had been “suboptimal”.

The Commission acknowledged a lack of data and inadequate methodologies in the sustainability assessment of gas projects.

“Given the EU’s objectives concerning climate change and sustainability, it is regrettable that gas projects were included on previous PCI lists, without having their sustainability properly assessed,” said the Ombudsman.

None of the 32 gas projects on the latest PCI project list were selected on the basis that they would make a significant contribution to sustainability, the Ombudsman said.

“Both the Commission and the complainant agree that sustainability assessments of candidate gas projects have been suboptimal. As a result, the sustainability of gas projects that were included on the fourth PCI list (and previous lists) has not been sufficiently taken into account,” according to the Ombudsman.

The European Commission could not immediately be reached for comment.

EU's new list of energy projects includes 32 gas facilities

The EU says it wants to get out of fossil fuels and become climate neutral as soon as possible. But the European Commission’s latest list of energy projects eligible for EU funding nevertheless includes 32 gas projects, including the construction of new LNG terminals, EURACTIV Germany reports.

Gas produces roughly half the CO2 emissions of coal when burned, but the fuel is associated with emissions of potent planet-warming methane.

And while the European Commission sees natural gas as a stepping stone between coal and renewables, environmentalists warn new infrastructure projects risk locking the EU into gas for decades.

The Ombudsman said future assessments of projects seeking PCI status should take into account CO2 and methane emissions.

The Commission is revising its criteria for assessing PCI projects in 2021, with a proposal expected in December. This update is expected to include methane and CO2 emissions.

In light of this, “no further inquiries are justified at this point,” the Ombudsman said.

The inquiry followed an October 2019 complaint from NGO Food and Water Europe, over a planned liquefied natural gas terminal in Ireland, which would import gas from the United States. The NGO said the project was added to the PCI list without a climate assessment.

“The Ombudswoman clearly confirms the lack of crucial climate assessments of highly subsidised fossil fuel projects for all PCI lists so far,” said campaigner Andy Gheorghiu, who filed the complaint.

Parliament backs EU list of energy projects, ignoring Greens

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday (12 February) against a motion to reject a proposed list of priority energy projects, ignoring the demands of Greens and leftists who warned against funding new gas infrastructure that risks being stranded as Europe moves to a zero-carbon economy.

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