Europe, Environment, Russia-Ukraine War

EU slowing down on green policies using Ukraine war as excuse, says expert

Disagreements among EU member states exist not only on phasing out fossil fuels but also on dependence on Russian gas, says Turkish professor

Burak Bir   | 05.08.2022
EU slowing down on green policies using Ukraine war as excuse, says expert


The EU's steps, which are normally seen in a "leader position" in environmental policies, call into question the bloc's policies in the fight against climate change.

The European Parliament's decision on July 6 to label natural gas and nuclear power as "green" and "sustainable" energy sources drew criticism as well as questions about the future of climate policies.

Especially, making "weaning itself off from Russian fossil fuels" the first priority rather than "reducing dependence or phasing out fossil fuels" has alarmed environmentalists and concerned citizens.

Levent Kurnaz, a professor at Bogazici University's Center for Climate Change and Policy Studies in Istanbul, spoke to Anadolu Agency about the EU's environmental and climate policies, as well as possible future moves amid financial difficulties and an energy crisis exacerbated by Russia's war on Ukraine.

Even if the Russia-Ukraine crisis did not occur, the EU would still slow its policies on climate and environmental issues down as the war is not the key factor, but rather a secondary cause in this regard, he argued.

"They decided to slow down, using the Russia-Ukraine crisis as an excuse," Kurnaz asserted, saying that there is both internal and external pressure on the EU.

The EU's current economic situation, as well as "signals" from the US and China, cause the bloc to proceed slowly with its climate policies, according to Kurnaz.

"These two pressures actually say similar things to the EU. 'We understand what you're thinking of doing, we agree, but you're in a hurry'," he said.

Regarding "signals" from the US and China, he said trusting Washington in this regard is not easy as the US Constitutional Court can destroy all the environmental progress easily. Kurnaz was referring to the US Supreme Court decision in late June restricting the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority to reduce carbon emissions and set climate standards for power plants.

Whereas, he pointed out that China is only an "environmentalist" as long as it can sell its goods.

On Feb. 2, the European Commission said natural gas and nuclear energy both have roles to play in the shift to renewable energy, which can be seen as a sign that the EU has already been planning to "soften or slowing down its green progress," according to the Turkish expert.

Disagreements among EU states

Kurnaz underlined that the EU actually does not have a plan to quit using fossil fuels, but rather aims to reach net zero emission by 2050, which does not mean "phasing out fossil fuels."

"The net zero targets mean that the EU's net emissions will fall to 360 million tons. In other words, the EU will continue to emit 360 million tons of CO2 until 2050. That was their plan, but they are now moving towards delaying even that," he stated.

Kurnaz explained that former Iron Curtain countries like Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and partially Hungary have no intention of abandoning fossil fuels anytime soon, whereas countries west of the Iron Curtain such as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France do.

Meanwhile, this is not a top priority for Italy, Portugal, Spain, or Greece, he added.

There is a conflict in the EU between the green policy of Western Europe and the "we continue in a business-as-usual" policy of Eastern Europe, he pointed out, adding that since Western politicians dominate the policy-making mechanism of the bloc, the fossil fuels issue is one of the top agenda items.

"However, this is not a common ground for the whole EU," Kurnaz said, adding that this disagreement is the same on the issue of reducing reliance on Russian gas.

Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania do not have a problem being dependent on Russian gas, he asserted, adding that southern Europe does not have either, but countries such as Poland, Germany and the Netherlands are very uncomfortable.

Liquefied natural gas to help Europe

In a bid to cut its reliance on Russian gas significantly by the end of this year, the EU has chalked out a plan to seek more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US, which has become the world's largest exporter of the commodity during the first half of 2022.

Since the US is also facing problems with its LNG terminals, the EU has not reached the desired amount of gas yet, Kurnaz said.

The Freeport LNG terminal in Texas has been closed since June 9 due to a fire. Initially, the shutdown was planned for three weeks, but officials later announced that it would be extended until the end of the year.

As soon as the LNG infrastructure in the US is developed, the EU will be able to get rid of its dependence on Russia, however, Germany would have an issue, as it has no LNG terminal, he opined.

Germany is in a difficult situation due to a lack of LNG facilities and a reliance on Russia for energy needs, according to Kurnaz.

Since LNG infrastructure is primarily concentrated in Western European coastline states, landlocked Central and Eastern European countries are largely cut off from the LNG network.

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