Is Europe missing the mark on climate change?

This opinion pieces was first published in Politico on 21 November 2019

Is Europe missing the mark on climate change?  

Placing affordability and technological innovation at the center of the EU’s long-term climate strategy will make it a success.

The energy transitions happening across EU member countries all rely on the same core element: it’s not technology, it’s not policy, it’s the European citizen. Policymakers can lead the way by setting objectives, and technology providers create solutions to reach them. But the success of both relies on citizens embracing the objectives, adopting the technologies, and, simply put, making the transition happen. This will only be the case if customer choice and competitive prices are maintained.

So far, to achieve emissions reductions, we’ve been going after the “low-hanging fruit,” mostly by pushing renewable energy in the power sector and raising energy efficiency standards. We’ve come a pretty long way over the past decade, and we’re not done yet. Quick wins like a coal-to-gas switch in heating and power generation are still there for policymakers to grab, helping to put the EU on track to achieve its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction objective, as well as providing more options for 2050.

However, this pace is increasingly hard to sustain. We’ve recently seen leading member countries such as Germany struggling to keep up with their climate commitments. In France, consumers are questioning clean transport policies. Perhaps even more worrying, emissions have begun to catch up with economic growth, casting a shadow over the GHG/GDP decoupling we have witnessed over the past few years.

"Giving consumers a broad range of options to choose from will keep them engaged."

The main question is: How do we keep the momentum going between 2030 and 2050 when we know the largest share of our emissions comes from sectors that are difficult to decarbonize? How do we aim for the higher end of the EU’s 80-95 percent GHG emission reduction target and ensure we don’t lose citizens’ support and fail to reach the climate goals?

These are some of the questions which the European Commission’s Long-Term Climate Strategy should seek to address when released in late November.

As stated in GasNaturally’s recently launched manifesto, we believe the success of the EU strategy will largely depend on policymakers’ ability to put energy affordability and technological innovation at its center.

In the short term, helping the EU achieve its climate goals can be done by making full use of all gas resources available, completing the internal market, and using gas infrastructure as the backbone of a hybrid energy system with an increasing share of variable renewables.

In the longer term, it means reducing the carbon content of gas by making smart use of natural gas with Carbon Capture Use and Storage renewable gases and hydrogen to go the extra mile in the heating, industrial processes, and transport sectors that together account for more than half of EU energy demand.

"The gas industry is ready to help policymakers reach their climate objectives in a cost-efficient manner while preserving the EU’s competitiveness."

Practically, giving consumers a broad range of options to choose from will keep them engaged. Shifting to a high-efficiency gas-condensing boiler, collecting waste for biogas production, installing solar panels, or switching to a gas or hybrid vehicle are some of many affordable, effective, and smart community solutions available to choose from that can drive the transition to a cleaner system.

The gas industry brings its fair share to this mutual effort by improving its own efficiency and reducing its carbon footprint, including the mitigation of methane emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report was clear: going for carbon-neutrality is going to be quite the challenge. The gas industry is ready to help policymakers reach their climate objectives in a cost-efficient manner, while preserving the EU’s competitiveness. To get there, we need political support to expand research, development, and innovation programs to include innovative gas technologies and a cross-sectoral holistic approach to emission reductions.

We need to consider all available solutions as we design the energy system of the future. Anything less, and we run the risk of missing the mark.