29 September 2014

TTIP's energy chapter: a key to "lock-in" climate chaos

Guest blog: Not only would the inclusion of an energy chapter fail to address energy security in the EU, it will also create bigger, potentially catastrophic, problems for the future.

Samuel Lowe, Campaigner at Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)

“Climate change is a moral issue in an inter-generational context as well. We simply have no right to impose the pain and cost of climate change on future generations. Such selfishness would be doubly immoral, because we know it will cost more to sort out the problem, the longer we leave it unsolved.”

Former European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso

The past week has seen hundreds of thousands people take to the streets globally demanding climate action; world leaders acknowledge consequences of inaction; and a polar bear got arrested protesting in New York. The debate is over. Anthropogenic climate change is a real issue with real economic, social and environmental costs. This is an established fact. The question now is what are we going to do about it, or, as is the case in this article, what should we not be doing?

If they really are serious about climate change, one thing the EU should categorically not be doing is advocating for the inclusion of an energy chapter in the TTIP. But y’know, they are.

Why an energy chapter?

Karel De Gucht, the outgoing EU Trade Commissioner, has made it very clear that the inclusion of an energy chapter and the overturning of a 40 year US ban on oil exports is a priority objective saying,  “I cannot imagine that there will ever be a TTIP without such (energy) provisions.”

The US are currently opposed to the idea, but if the EU were to offer up something that the US wants in exchange (and I certainly think of a few things they might like …)? Well I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The logic underpinning the EU’s desire for the inclusion of an energy chapter is, at a surface level, relatively sound: In the face of continued tensions with Russia (who currently provide around 30% of Europe’s gas) the EU is looking for ways to diversify its energy supply. The inclusion of an energy chapter in TTIP would theoretically go some way towards addressing this issue. A Financial Times editorial, published earlier this year, makes this very argument (my response can be found here):

“Europe relies heavily on Russian gas pipelines. Mr Putin has shown no compunction about using the threat of cutting supplies – or jacking up prices – as a lever to extort diplomatic concessions. Ukraine and other near neighbours have been the principal victims. There is nothing to stop Mr Putin from threatening Germany and others with similar measures. As the EU comes around to Mr Obama’s agenda of tougher sanctions on Russia, it is strongly in US interests to support its energy diversification. It would also help revive the case for TTIP in Europe by giving governments a stronger case to take to their electorates.”

They additionally argue that this would allow Europe to benefit from America’s shale gas boom, dismissing any concerns about additional climate impact as being mistaken because “Gas is the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel and it makes no difference where it is consumed.”

However, both Commissioner De Gucht and the Financial Times have failed to consider the long-term risks, and indeed effectiveness, of adopting such a strategy.

Courting climate chaos

First, while natural gas may be the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel, as a result of fugitive emissions from fracking sites the debate is still ongoing with regard to the overall level of greenhouse gases emitted by shale gas. To claim otherwise is inherently misleading. In regards to economic viability, liquefied shale gas exported from America would most likely not be competitively priced due to the costs associated with liquefaction and transportation. Additionally, the ‘pro’ argument relies heavily on the assumption that shale gas in the US will continue to be abundant and cheap long into the future, an assumption that many are starting to question

Second, the removal of the US ban on oil exports would likely serve to facilitate the export of tar sand oils, mined in Canada and refined in the US, to the EU. A study commissioned by the EU has found the average greenhouse gas emissions from tar sand extraction and processing to be 23 per cent higher than the average fuels used in the EU. While the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive would ideally place restrictions on the import of tar sand fuels, reports suggest that, due to US and Canadian lobbying, the methodology used to determine a fuel’s carbon footprint is to be diluted in order to remove such barriers:

“After years of lobbying, Canadian officials have persuaded the European Commission to change the methodology for the latest draft of the “fuel quality directive”. The result of the changes, if approved, would be that fuels derived from tar sands would not face discriminatory penalties.

Chris Davies, a European parliamentarian on the environment committee, said that Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate action commissioner, had lost out to stronger voices in the commission with industrial and trade portfolios. “She got beat,” said Mr Davies.”

Financial Times, June 6 2014

Finally, and this is important, the necessary infrastructure investment required to facilitate the transport of liquefied gas across the Atlantic is considerable and decidedly long term. The inclusion of an energy chapter is certainly not a short-term, or even medium-term, solution to Europe’s need to diversify its energy supply. To compound matters further, a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has found that high-carbon investment over the next 15 years would "lock in" the risks of dangerous climate change. Not only would the inclusion of an energy chapter in the TTIP fail to adequately address issues of energy security in the EU in the short term, it will also create bigger, potentially catastrophic, problems going forward. 

So why then, with little to gain and at a time when independent scientific bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Panel is instructing the world to wean itself off fossil fuels, are our leaders even contemplating committing to costly projects that will lock us into fossil fuel dependency for the coming decades? Are they really that foolhardy and reckless?

I’d like to think not … but the available evidence isn’t filling me with confidence.

Samuel Lowe is a Campaigner at Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland). He tweets as @SamuelMarcLowe

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