Climate advocates challenge EU support for gas pipelines

Client Earth argues European Commission infrastructure priorities are not compatible with climate goals

Climate advocates dispute EU support for gas pipelines, arguing it is incompatible with the bloc’s climate goals.

The European Commission has put 13 billion euros ($14 billion) of gas infrastructure on a list of priority projects, helping developers secure financing and permits.

Projects at stake include the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Pipeline delivering methane gas to mainland Europe via Greece and the Melita Gas Pipeline from Italy to the island of Malta.

Guillermo Ramo is one of Client Earth’s attorneys on the case. He told Climate Home: “Gas infrastructure has a long lifespan. We will use it for decades. So everything we do must take into account our climate commitments.

When asked if Eastern Mediterranean gas is needed to replace Russian gas, he replied: “Energy efficiency savings and renewables come first. Many pipelines will be many years from now…it is too late for them to be useful in the context of their diversification away from Russia.

Gas pipelines on EU PCI priority list. (Photo: Screenshot/European Commission)

Lawyers will use a new legal option known as internal review. Client Earth is also using this mechanism to challenge the European Union’s classification of biofuels as a green investment.

Their legal argument against the European Commission’s decision to place gas projects on the priority list of “projects of common interest” (PCI) rests on several grounds. The first main one is that the Commission breached Article 6 of the European Climate Law. This stipulates that any proposal must be assessed on its consistency with the EU’s climate objectives.

Second, they say the EU must undertake a cost-benefit analysis when putting a project on this PCI list, including greenhouse gas emissions. While the Commission had considered the carbon dioxide emissions associated with these projects, Ramo said it had not considered methane emissions. Gas pipelines often release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The EU aims to stop burning methane for electricity by 2035 and completely stop using gas by 2050. In the short term, it aims to quickly replace Russian gas imports with non-gas. Russian as well as by renewable energies.

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The largest gas project on the PCI list is the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Pipeline. This 1,870 kilometer facility would connect the island of Cyprus to the large Greek island of Crete and to mainland Greece’s gas transmission network. Construction has not yet started.

Natasa Ioannou from Friends of the Earth Cyprus said: “The EastMed pipeline is a disaster for communities and the climate. It is not in the interest of local people in the region who will bear the costs of blocking fossil fuels and damaging the ecologically sensitive Mediterranean Sea.

Another project on the list is a 159 km gas pipeline linking the Italian island of Sicily to the island state of Malta. The European Commission said Malta could then obtain gas by pipeline and not rely on expensive shipped liquefied natural gas. The Maltese government lobbied for the project to be included in the EU PCI list.

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The pipeline is controversial because it will connect the Delimiara power plant. It is partly owned by Yorgen Fenech, who was accused of killing journalist Daphne Caruana Galiza with a car bomb in 2017 after investigating allegations of corruption at the power plant. Fenech denies any wrongdoing and blamed the former prime minister’s chief of staff for the murder.

The European Union has been accused of hypocrisy for backing fossil fuels in Europe, while several of its largest member states pledged at last year’s Cop26 climate summit to end funding for fossil fuels fossils abroad.

The European Commission has 22 weeks to respond to Client Earth’s legal challenge.

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