EU to face backlash over energy at Cop27

Experts see Europe’s gas crisis threatening co-operation with developing world

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Europe is likely to face a tense Cop27 as it struggles with accusations of hypocrisy from the developing world for actively seeking new gas contracts — despite its climate pledges — following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Researchers from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said the energy crisis would be high on the agenda at the summit.

ECFR visiting fellow Mats Engstrom on Monday said during an online discussion focused on Europe’s energy security interests that Cop27, which will begin later this week in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, should be viewed as a “conflict zone”.

Food insecurity brought on by the war in Ukraine — one of the top grain suppliers in the world — and rising debt levels in developing nations have contributed to a lack of trust between the Global South and the Global North, he said.

“The basic message is for the European Union to create true partnerships,” said Mr Engstrom.

A brief entitled “We’ll always have Paris: how to adapt multilateral climate co-operation to new realities”, co-authored by Mr Engstrom, calls on Brussels to be more inclusive in its energy transition towards climate neutrality in 2050.

To gain trust with partners in the Global South, the EU should support low-carbon industrial transitions, not only the deployment of renewable energy, the paper argues.

“Climate change is the ultimate global challenge,” said co-author and senior ECFR policy fellow Anthony Dworkin.

“Yet we are in a global environment where co-operation is a lot harder than it used to be. We see manoeuvring for power and advantage in the international system.”

The EU must try to understand the drivers of climate policies in the rest of the world, said Mr Dworkin. Countries such as China and India made modest emissions targets under the Paris Agreement process but are projected to exceed them.

This is because there are other factors at play outside peer pressure, reads the policy brief. Commercial advantage and domestic policies play important roles in determining government climate policies.

The EU has also come under fire in the past months from the developing world for apparent hypocrisy in its quest for new gas contracts from Central Asia, the US and the Gulf region, said ECFR visiting fellow Cinzia Bianco.

High-level meetings between Gulf and European officials have intensified in the past months and Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson is expected to travel to the Gulf in January.

To counter such accusations, Europe must foster diplomatic and scientific co-operation in fields such as sustainable desalination techniques, said Ms Bianco.

When questioned, senior European officials usually argue that the continent’s scramble to wean itself from Russian gas has accelerated its green transition, but this argument sits uncomfortably with several recent announcements to extend the life of highly polluting coal mines.

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Last month, Norway prolonged the life of its last coal mine situated in the Arctic until 2025 instead of 2024 because its operations have now become profitable. The Arctic is one of the world's most vulnerable regions to climate change.

Ms Bianco argued that, to develop trust with energy producers, Brussels must tie itself to long-term contracts. Trying to stick to five-year contracts to abide by climate change goals is “dangerous” because it discourages partners from investing in infrastructure, she said.

“I think a very credible opportunity is to inscribe the energy transition into a single contract that starts with a more conventional partnership on fossil fuels but signals our long-term commitments to GCC monarchies provided that they, with our support, use and reinvest the surplus they are making into that [green] transition,” she said.

For example, the contracts could allow for transitions to low-carbon ammonia, suggested Ms Bianco. The first shipment of low-carbon ammonia from the UAE to Germany was completed last month.

Such ideas could be tested on the EU market and expanded to others in Asia.

“It is interesting, from a commercial point of view, for Gulf monarchies to have such a large market that is willing to be a test customer for green energy,” said Ms Bianco.

“There’s a mutual interest here.”

Updated: November 01, 2022, 8:49 PM