Climate campaigner Andy Gheorghiu takes stock of a 2020 full of climate activism in Europe and the World, and pencils the main climate policy milestones to look forward to in 2021.
This blog is part of our dossier The Paris Agreement Five Years On.
2020! A year that for lots of people and at lots of levels is bound to be unforgettable. But has it really been a “lost year”, as many people are calling it, and what can we expect in 2021?
At the start of 2020 it was clear that we need to make people far more aware of the problems of “fossil gas as a bridge to the post-fossil future” and “fracking for plastic”.
We had to put these issues on the political agenda and we planned to achieve this partly through a Speakers Tour with the international expert Prof. Howarth of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
2020 webinar series: Fracking, plastics, fossil gas, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the climate
Unfortunately, the coronavirus meant that we had to turn the whole thing into a webinar series – which, however, was very successful.
On 7 May we explored the largely unknown nexus between “Fracking, plastics and the climate” with members of the European Parliament, and a week later in “Fuelling the climate crisis: The underrated contribution of natural gas to global warming” we highlighted Germany’s important role as the largest gas market in the EU in critical discussions with members of the German Parliament.
Something that has been foreseeable for years was remorselessly highlighted by the pandemic: the fossil system is teetering on the edge – including in economic terms. The series in the second part of the year then kicked off appropriately with the webinar “Decline and fall – The global fracking industry in crisis”, which drew attention to the fate of fossil gas projects as disastrous investments.
In “Gateway for fracking gas or contribution to the energy transition: Does Germany need an LNG Terminal?” we gave local activists in Brunsbüttel and Wilhelmshaven –the proposed locations for the construction of LNG import terminals – the opportunity to explain the many and varied reasons for their opposition- They also got the chance to confront politicians who favour the projects, including the Environment Minister of Lower Saxony and the State Secretary of the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry of the Environment.
The series concluded in October with the online seminar“The global/transatlantic connection: Climate-damaging LNG production in Canada by means of German financial guarantees”, which enabled activists – the majority of them Canadian – to describe the local perspectives and regional impacts of the Goldboro LNG project to a larger international audience.
But people may be asking whether anything has actually been achieved. The answer is clear: yes!
People everywhere are talking about fossil gas as a false promise and neither industrialists nor policy-makers can continue to take refuge behind misleading assertions. 2020 may seem to many like a lost year, but our work has certainly borne fruit at various levels.
Milestones of 2020
Success in our field of work is the result of years, if not decades, of laborious struggle. Often this means that we cannot properly celebrate our achievements (by then we are usually in the middle of new campaigns!). And so here is a little list of the things that can be considered milestones in 2020:
Anti-LNG campaign in Ireland
Ireland entered a new political era with a historic election result that brought the Green Party into the governing coalition; it also published a very ambitious programme for government. This includes the statement:
“As Ireland moves towards carbon neutrality, we do not believe that it makes sense to develop LNG gas import terminals importing fracked gas, accordingly we shall withdraw the Shannon LNG terminal from the EU Projects of Common Interest list in 2021. We do not support the importation of fracked gas and shall develop a policy statement to establish that approach.”
Anti-LNG campaign in Germany and Canada
Although the German federal government (and the regional governments of the LNG terminal sites in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein) are still miles away from sharing the established position of the Irish Government, our opposition has nonetheless achieved milestones in 2020.
For the second time, grassroots members at the regional party conference of the Greens in Schleswig-Holstein at the end of October voted emphatically against the Brunsbüttel LNG terminal and the associated pipeline. It is now up to the Greens in government to implement this resolution. The project has in any case been faltering for some time – despite the prospect of millions of euros in funding from Germany’s scheme for the improvement of regional economic structures. The investor German LNG had to ask the town of Brunsbüttel to extend the deadline for the investment decision until June 2022. German LNG originally planned to reach a decision by the end of 2019: construction was due to start in 2020, with the terminal becoming operational in 2022.
Things are not going much better for the other contender, Wilhelmshaven. Following an unsuccessful market consultation process in a search for binding bookings, the investor Uniper announced on 6 November that it would review plans for an LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven. Via Uniper, Germany also has links with the Goldboro LNG project in Canada, which is likewise not progressing. Key deadlines had again had to be postponed. A final investment decision is due to be made by June 2021. Under the original plan, construction was scheduled to start at the end of 2015.
Failure to provide climate assessment of subsidised EU gas projects is criticised
Fossil gas projects on the list of Projects of Common Interest (the PCI list) receive preferential access to funds and can be progressed more speedily – despite the fact that the European Commission has never evaluated their impact on the climate.
As a result of my complaint, the EU Ombudswoman has now officially criticised this practice and expects the Commission to perform a climate and sustainability assessment for fossil gas projects on the next list. We must continue to keep a very critical eye on the process for the next PCI list, but it will no longer be so easy for the Commission and the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG) to neglect this key assessment.
Ineos’ Project One in the port of Antwerp temporarily halted
Ineos aims to invest €3 billion in the construction of new plastic production facilities in Antwerp. It looks as though their so-called Project One - which relies on climate-damaging and environmentally harmful #Fracking4Plastics - , was running into trouble. At the end of October, the Flemish Environment Minister and Vice-President for Europe of the global climate network Regions4 gave Ineos the green light for its deforestation plans – despite protests from climate campaigners and environmentalists. However, a court upheld the legal challenge from ClientEarth and declared the permit invalid. The reason for the decision was that the “salami-slicing” technique employed by Ineos – which involved splitting the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for Project One into three chunks is illegal. The court stated the EIA must consider the environmental impacts of the project as a whole: For instance, taking global emissions caused by the project into account. Local campaigners believe that this will delay Project One by a good year.
2021 – What do we do now?
Although important milestones have been reached in 2020, we shall need to continue and even step up our work in 2021. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, and whether we like it or not, this is crunch time and our action is crucial.
So what sort of things do we need to keep an eye on in 2021?
Well, a federal parliamentary election is due in Germany and we must use it to make fossil gas an election campaign issue. Our aim must be to prevent construction of the planned LNG terminals and completion of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The construction of new gas-fired power plants must also be halted. The #NoRoomForGas Declaration already provides a basis for common demands. Close attention must also be paid to the forthcoming Bundestag vote on the legal framework for fracking. This should be used to impose a complete and comprehensive ban on fracking in Germany.
We also need to improve transatlantic networking, prevent the construction of Project One in Antwerp and generate even greater awareness about the #Fracking4Plastics link.
At EU level we must keep a critical eye on the process for drawing up the next list of Projects of Common Interest and for implementing the methane strategy that was published in October, and we will intervene as necessary.
At international level we must expand and connect existing networks and join forces in order to achieve ambitious results at the Glasgow climate conference (COP26).
An individual case that in my view requires our international attention is the planned oil drilling and fracking in the Kavango region near the Okavango Delta in Africa. The Canadian company ReconAfrica has acquired a 25-year licence for reserves that could turn out to be bigger than those of the Permian Basin in Texas. The licence covers areas of Botswana and Namibia that include wildlife reserves and the Tsodilo Hills, a site of spiritual significance to the indigenous San.
We cannot emphasise it too often, especially in this particular case: enough is enough! This madness must be halted! This is what we need to do together in 2021.
This entry was published in German on Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung's Klima der Gerechtigkeit blog.