In 2019, the U.S. began officially pulling out of the Paris Agreement, rolled back tons of important climate legislation, and expanded fossil fuel infrastructure. Meanwhile last fall, Germany committed to reaching net-zero by 2050 late last month. And last month, the UK’s oil and gas industry committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, too.
Doesn’t that make you want to escape this hellscape and book a one-way ticket to London or Munich to sip tea and bask in the glow of just environmental policy? Well, maybe don’t just yet. It turns out Europe is fucking up, too.
New research from the Global Energy Monitor released Tuesday shows that European countries are planning to invest almost $130 billion of private and public funds into new gas-fired power plants, liquefied natural gas import terminals, and gas pipelines routed from Russia, Turkmenistan, and Israel. All that new infrastructure would give Europe the capacity to import 30 percent more natural gas that will in turn fuel the climate crisis.
The European move to import gas at a time when fossil fuel has to be cut is due in part to falling demand in Japan and South Korea. Demand is also rising slower expected in China, and Europe is taking in more of the gas those other countries don’t want. Last year, the continent imported 85 million tons of gas, more gas than ever before.
The new report shows the EU already has the capacity to bring in almost twice as much gas as it uses. So why expand gas infrastructure if they’re already oversupplied? The report says it’s because industry representatives with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG)—a trade group of pipeline and gas companies—are leading gas infrastructure planning.
“To say that the legacy industry influences the process is actually an understatement,” Ted Nace, the Global Energy Monitor’s Founder and Executive Director, told Earther in an email. The legacy industry directs the process.”
Nearly $40 billion or a whopping third of the planned investments in new natural gas infrastructure is earmarked from gas expansion plans in the UK and Germany alone. So much for reaching net-zero emissions! Greece, Poland, Romania, and Italy are also all expanding their gas infrastructure substantially.
This couldn’t be coming at a worse time. Fossil gas infrastructure can have a lifespan of over 40 years, which means that investing in new fossil gas infrastructure today could lock Europe into using more of it for decades. Scientists have made it clear that we can’t keep expanding fossil fuel infrastructure—in fact, we need to start shutting it down and replacing it with non-polluting energy quickly. Locking into more gas infrastructure would make that impossible.
“In order to arrive at net zero emissions by mid-century, Europe needs to invest in a new energy system that uses combinations of renewable generated power, battery storage, and demand side management, rather than generating power from gas,” said Nace.
Unfortunately, this gas infrastructure expansion is part of a global trend. More natural gas is being extracted, which is making it cheaper and more accessible. Last year, gas was the primary driver of global carbon emissions growth, according to the Global Carbon Project.
“Natural gas usage has surged, with an attendant 2.6 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions for 2019,” Rob Jackson, a Stanford University professor and Global Carbon Project researcher, said in a statement in December. “In fact, rising natural gas use accounts for 60 percent of fossil emissions growth in recent years.”
And carbon dioxide emissions aren’t the only problem. Natural gas processing and transportation also leaks methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about 120 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term.
It’s not too late to stop most of this infrastructure from being built, though. Construction has started on less than 10 percent of the proposed liquified natural gas import terminals. Ditto for many of the proposed European pipelines.
“It’s clear that we need to reexamine new investments in fossil fuels like gas, both to save on billions of future stranded assets as well as to ensure that clean energy gets the financing it needs in order to meet our climate objectives,” said Nace.