Environmental groups starting legal action to end support for 30 EU-backed gas projects

Four environmental groups are starting legal action to end support for 30 EU-backed gas projects with a total cost of about €13 billion (nearly $14 billion).

Photo (c) Friends of the Earth Europe Philip Reynaers
TEN-E action in September 2021; Photo (c) Friends of the Earth Europe/Philip Reynaers (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth Europe, Food & Water Action Europe, and CEE Bankwatch Network revealed on Tuesday that they are starting legal action to end support for 30 EU-backed proposed gas projects, saying the EU Commission has given these “climate-destructive projects” a VIP status, in contradiction of its legal obligations.

Every other year, the EU Commission draws up a list of priority energy infrastructure projects deemed beneficial to the whole bloc and the infrastructure on the “Projects of Common Interest” list gains fast-tracked permits and eligibility for EU funds. This list, which entered into force in April 2022, is governed by the Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E) Regulation.

According to the environmental groups, billions of euros will be spent on 30 major pieces of gas infrastructure like the EastMed pipeline – a €7 billion, 1,900km gas pipeline that will connect Eastern Mediterranean offshore gas fields from Israel and Cyprus to Italy via Greece.

Natasa Ioannou, climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth Cyprus said: “All along the route of the EastMed pipeline people are saying no to new fossil fuel infrastructure and yes to climate justice and to peace. EU funding must focus on supporting projects that implement just, fair, safe, and renewable energy solutions.”

The groups have been able to begin legal action through a request for internal review – a mechanism now open for use by NGOs and the public after a major reform of EU access to justice laws last year.

Therefore, the four organisations request the EU Commission to review the decision that approved the PCI list and gave 30 proposed gas projects priority status. If the Commission refuses to amend its decision, the organisations will be able to ask the Court of Justice of the EU to rule, the organisations explained in the statement.

ClientEarth lawyer, Guillermo Ramo, said: “This list amounts to a VIP pass for fossil gas in Europe, when we should be talking about its phase-out. The Commission did not consider the impact of methane emissions derived from gas infrastructure projects – in spite of evidence that these are substantial. That’s unlawful as it directly clashes with the EU’s own climate laws and its legal obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

The environmental organisations argue the EU’s decision to support gas infrastructure puts the EU’s climate and energy goals under threat pointing out that experts have clearly said no new gas or other fossil fuel developments should be built if we are to limit warming to 1.5C. The list also comes as Europe faces a gas price crisis and an energy security crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The EU Commission’s REPowerEU strategy plans to unleash another €10 billion in new fossil gas infrastructure, the organisations said.

As a reminder, the EU has recently presented its REPowerEU plan, detailing measures to respond to the ambition of phasing out Europe’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels faster through energy savings, diversification of energy supplies, and accelerated roll-out of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in homes, industry, and power generation.

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Previously, the EU said the plan is supposed to make European Union member states independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, starting with gas. This could reduce Europe’s demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of the year.

The environmental groups claim that some studies point out that the EU can end imports of all Russian fossil gas by 2025 – two years earlier than the European Commission’s current target of 2027 – without building new gas infrastructure or delaying the phase-out of coal.

The European Commission now has up to 22 weeks to reply. The end result could be a judgement clarifying how the EU should take the climate impacts of infrastructure into account.

It is also worth mentioning in this context that, less than two weeks ago, the G7 countries – made up of Germany, Italy, France, Japan, the UK, the U.S., and Canada – pledged to end direct international public financing of the fossil fuels sector starting from the end of this year and affirmed the commitment to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.