Xinhua | World Insights: European, American "dirty energy" policies seen as blow to global climate governance

Author: Release date:2022-09-30 00:44:25Source:Xinhua

LONDON, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- The European Commission is now overseeing tens of billions of U.S. dollars of spending on fossil fuel infrastructure and supplies amid severe cuts to gas supplies from Russia and soaring energy prices.

Meanwhile, the quantity of liquefied natural gas (LNG) purchased by Europe from the United States exceeded the pipeline transported gas purchased from Russia, which means that the United States is replacing Russia to possibly become Europe's largest energy supplier.

Europe's current embracing of fossil fuels, so-called dirty energy, happens a little more than a year after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 14 last year: The fossil fuel economy has reached its limits. On that same day, the European Commission unveiled a package of proposals to put the continent on a path to becoming climate neutral by 2050.

Some analysts believe that European and American policies responding to the global energy crisis might be seen as a blow to global climate governance. In the long run, the more emissions accumulate in the early stage, the more difficult the later reduction of emissions will become.


To shake off a looming energy crisis, many European countries, including Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark have announced the reopening of coal power plants as gas supplies from Russia have slumped amid Western sanctions. They are also countries that once advocated abandoning coal power generation and protecting the environment.

Data analysed by the energy think-tank Ember Climate for the Financial Times suggest that European governments will spend at least 50 billion euro (about 48.6 billion dollars) this winter on new and expanded fossil fuel infrastructure and supplies, including gas shipped in from overseas and coal to fuel previously mothballed power plants.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted in favor of plans to award a green investment label to nuclear and gas projects, which sparked claims of greenwashing by some EU member states and environmental lobbyists. The European Commission also announced earlier that some of the existing coal capacities might be used longer than initially expected because of the new energy landscape in Europe.

In Britain, the government has recently announced a new energy exploitation policy to increase oil and gas production, drawing opposition from climate experts, Green groups and communities. Downing Street argued that the move will help Britain boost domestic energy production, maintain energy security and reduce dependence on imports.

For the United States, the global energy crisis has prompted the federal government to expediate domestic renewable energy production and increase its export of natural gas (such as LNG) to the world while prices remain high.

The U.S. is exporting more LNG than ever before, which has been encouraged by the U.S. Department of Energy, Sean Field, a research fellow with the Center for Energy Ethics in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, has told Xinhua.


The European countries are making efforts to cut demand, ranging from limiting heating to turning off public lights at night. Given rising gas, oil and electricity prices, more German families are turning to wood for heating. Danish heating company asked customers to get out warm socks and blankets and try to delay turning on the heating.

It's a very strange time when people are turning to firewood, and planning to get warm at community centers because they can't heat their homes in one of the richest countries, one of the richest regions in the world, Field told Xinhua.

He described the current situation in Europe and Britain as delicate because Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas flowing from the east to the west, and Britain is not immune to that. The reasons for the deep energy crisis in Europe, he said, stem from the infrastructure on which their energy is situated.

In Britain, this has really been a crisis constructed over 20 years. And so what we're experiencing right now is acute price crisis, where prices have gone up, what you're potentially facing in the winter is a supply crisis, Field said.

The existing energy policy in Europe is rather vulnerable and lacks resilience in addressing the rapid increase in abnormal demands and decrease in supply chains of energy, and once it encounters natural disasters, such as extreme weather and/or human-induced turmoil, it may create a domino effect, resulting in energy shortages and soaring energy prices and furthermore, affecting the overall process of social and economic development and emission reduction, Tang Xu, professor of Fudan Development Institute and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences/Institute of Atmospheric Sciences at Fudan University in China, told Xinhua.

The current turmoil suggests that European 'ambitious plans' and targets for emission reduction are underestimating the fragility of its processes. Energy redundancy should be a part of ambitious targets, but, as a matter of fact, they (energies) are insufficiently reserved. And the actual implementation is inadequate, he added.

The United States is not solving the climate crisis, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, told Xinhua.

He said that the energy crisis right now is quite complicated because it reflects, in part, the crisis in Ukraine, which in Sachs' view, never should have happened.

The crisis is about a conflict that should be stopped through negotiation, he added.


The European countries' resorting to fossil fuels is indicative of their desperation, as Virginijus Sinkevicius, European commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, insisted that the EU's climate targets are not postponed or cancelled.

However, the struggle to balance climate change and curbing record-high prices in Europe is set to anger climate change activists due to the long-term effects of fossil fuel use on global warming.

In the short term, the restarting of coal-fired power plants in parts of Europe seemingly undermines climate change commitments, said Field. But, governments have to grapple with serious ethical questions about meeting the immediate-term energy needs of their citizens while balancing longer-term commitments to curbing climate change and safeguarding the environment for future generations.

Analysts fear some of the bloc's investments in coal and the LNG could yoke it to fossil fuels for longer than planned, putting future emissions targets at risk.

In the long run, the more emissions accumulate in the early stage, the more difficult the later reduction of emissions will become, said Tang.

This will significantly increase the pressure of reducing emissions in the later stage to achieve carbon neutrality. An extraordinary measure on emissions reduction is needed to meet their commitment to the climate targets of the Paris Agreement, he said.

At the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Egypt in November, world leaders will again debate how far wealthier nations will go to support developing countries in the climate transition.

A pledge in 2009 for richer countries to raise 100 billion dollars yearly in climate financing for vulnerable countries has not been met. And Europe and America's balancing act to end dirty energy has complicated matters further.