EU Climate Plan Allows Loophole for Gas, Raises Questions About Carbon Sinks
Even as the European Union took a victory lap earlier this month for boosting its 2030 carbon reduction target from 40 to 55%, decision-makers within the sprawling EU system faced accusations that they were watering down their decarbonization effort by allowing funding for gas projects and adding carbon sink offsets to their calculations for the first time.
In mid-September, the European parliament said it would make financing from its multi-billion-Euro Just Transition Fund available to some gas projects, “teeing up tough talks with the bloc’s executive and national governments, which have already agreed to exclude the fuel,” Reuters reported at the time. “The projects must be in coal-heavy regions and comply with the EU’s 2030 climate target.”
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While “gas emits roughly 50% less CO2 than coal when burned in power plants,” the news agency added, “it is also associated with leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas”.
Member of European Parliament Manolis Kefalogiannis, a member of Greece’s New Democracy party, said the rule would allow a “limited possibility of investments in natural gas as a ‘bridging fuel’”. But “others said spending public money on gas contradicted EU lawmakers’ promise, made last year, to tackle the climate emergency,” Reuters wrote.
“It’s just not explainable to the public,” said Greens MEP Niklas Nienass of Germany.
In August, Reuters said the European gas and nuclear industries had ramped up their lobbying around the EU’s definition of “green” investments, fearing the final decision could deprive them of billions in subsidies.
Days before the decision on gas plants, the EU executive was accused of “cheating” on the 2020 target by calculating carbon sinks like tree planting and soil carbon capture into the more ambitious target. “Critics say Brussels is guilty of an ‘accounting trick’ that makes the proposed 2030 target look higher than it really is,” The Guardian said. “The row turns on the concept of ‘removals’, a reference to sinks that absorb more carbon than they emit, such as forests and soils”—that was not included in a previous version of the legally-binding plan, published in March.
“This accounting trick by the commission would make any new target sound higher than it actually is,” said Greenpeace EU Climate and Energy Adviser Sebastian Mang. “You can’t win a 100-metre race if you get someone else to run the last 20 metres. That’s called cheating. Restoring nature is essential, but must be additional to efforts to cut emissions in the most polluting sectors.”
The European Commission says it makes sense to include carbon sinks in the drive for a net-zero target in 2050, and an unnamed official told The Guardian the EU had adjusted for critics’ concerns by revising its emissions baseline for the year 1990.
“The accounting is still valid,” the source said. “I acknowledge there is still a discussion about where the EU carbon sink is and what it absorbs,” but there will be no “free” emissions.