The Green Brief: Fighting against windmills
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Environmental activists need to set their priorities straight and get serious about green technologies, otherwise they risk pushing Europe – and the rest of the world – into a fossil fuel trap.
The environmental movement’s approach to green tech can sometimes be puzzling, to say the least.
When the European Commission unveiled a strategy, more than two years ago, to boost offshore wind generation capacity 25 times over by mid-century, the Greens did not break out in applause. Instead, they expressed worries about the protection of marine wildlife.
Similarly, when the EU executive tabled a plan last year to ditch Russian fossil fuels and massively accelerate the deployment of wind and solar in Europe, activists did not rejoice but cried wolf at the idea that renewables could be labelled as projects of “overriding public interest”.
WWF, the global conservation group, even fired a warning shot at EU policymakers, saying the concept of an “overriding public interest” for renewables might “lead to more projects being challenged in court on environmental grounds, thereby slowing them down.”
Now, Greta Thunberg and dozens of other activists were seen on Monday blocking the entrance of Norway’s Energy Ministry in protest against wind turbines built on land traditionally used by indigenous Sami reindeer herders.
Activists, of course, may have valid points to make. Razing pristine forests to build massive solar or wind farms would be disastrous. And there is a genuine issue in ensuring that local communities truly benefit from green energy projects.
But there is also an energy crisis going on. One where Europe is desperately racing to replace fossil fuels in record time – including an objective to at least double the share of renewables and slash carbon emissions in half before the end of this decade.
Thunberg has repeatedly told policymakers to take the climate emergency for what it is – an emergency. And the hard truth is that no renewable energy solution is 100% green. Nor is “clean tech” 100% clean.
Hard choices need to be made, some of them involving trade-offs. And nowhere are those trade-offs more visible than with green technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, or electric vehicles, which all require raw materials like copper, cobalt, lithium, or rare earths.
In 2021, the International Energy Agency warned about an upcoming supply crunch in the materials most needed to transition away from fossil fuels. There is “a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions”, it said back then.
A recent study by Belgium’s KUL Leuven university calls for greater focus on developing mining and mineral refining capacity within the EU in order to decrease Europe’s reliance on China, which often supplies more than 90% of the raw materials needed for clean-tech manufacturing.
“First and foremost, this is about building capacities in Europe,” said Peter Handley, a senior official at the European Commission’s internal market directorate. “We have to look at where it makes sense to extract raw materials here in Europe,” he told a EURACTIV event in December.
Europe needs to make it more attractive to invest in mining, said Liesbet Gregoir, the lead author of the KUL study. “Permitting procedures take a long time. So we need to find a way to get public support by getting transparency and trust that mining is needed,” she told EURACTIV.
Fortunately, some activists agree. Julia Poliscanova from the clean mobility group Transport and Environment (T&E) says the EU must support “strategic projects” for minerals mining and refining, which promote high social and environmental standards.
“We must give support not just to domestic projects but also to global projects in mining, as well as in refining and recycling,” she told the EURACTIV event.
And as Europe supports mining projects abroad, it can also bring higher social and environmental standards in host countries, making sure local communities can also benefit.
But despite the clear need to scale up mining for the green transition, there is a growing trend of anti-mining activism seeking to denounce the social and environmental impacts that could be unleashed by the energy transition.
While mining projects deserve scrutiny, Europe should also avoid the trap of green fundamentalism. Because the alternative would be to prolong the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. Or to continue relying on China for our raw materials, which surely won’t help the cause of human rights or the environment.
Campaigners need to choose their battles more carefully or risk being assimilated to the ranks of new Don Quixotes of this century – fighting against windmills when the real enemy is elsewhere.
Electricity market reform: Paris challenges Berlin on the timetable
Paris wants the EU’s electricity market reform completed by the end of the year, the French energy minister’s office said on Friday (24 February), challenging Berlin’s preference to wait until the 2024 European elections.
Energy battle won, but fight not over, says EU energy chief
The EU has successfully made it through the winter despite Russia’s attempts to disrupt its gas supplies, but there is still a lot of work needed to protect future energy security, said EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson on Monday (27 February).
Eleven EU countries launch alliance for nuclear power in Europe
Signatories committed on Tuesday (28 February) to “cooperate more closely” across the entire nuclear supply chain, and promote “common industrial projects” in new generation capacity as well as new technologies like small reactors.
WARSAW. Russia halts oil deliveries to Poland over lack of payments. The Russian Transneft company was supposed to pump Russian oil into Polish refineries at the end of February, but orders were not placed and paid, and, as a result, deliveries to Poland were excluded from the export program approved by the Energy Ministry of the Russian Federation, RIA Novosti reported. Read more.
OSLO. Greta Thunberg opposes controversial wind farm project in Norway. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a mass protest on Monday outside the Oil and Energy Ministry in Oslo against a controversial wind farm being built on a mountainous area in Sami lands. Read more.
COPENHAGEN. Report: Nord Stream explosions led to ‘ecological catastrophe’. The September 2022 explosions that blew up Nord Stream pipelines, running from Russia to Germany at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, led to an ecological catastrophe and put local and endangered species at risk, according to a recent study by Research Square. Read more.
PARIS. France eyes water restriction during winter drought. France is to adopt a series of water restriction measures and a major water plan, as it currently faces an unprecedented winter drought, Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion Minister Christophe Béchu announced in an interview on Wednesday. Read more.
Europe must step up efforts to decarbonise heating: EU agency. Buildings consumed almost half (42%) of the EU’s final energy used by all sectors in 2020, and decarbonising heating should be a key focus area for Europe in order to meet its climate targets, says a briefing released on Thursday (23 February) by the European Environment Agency.
While energy renovation and conservation measures have proven their efficiency in reducing heating needs, energy efficiency interventions are not enough to decarbonise, since fossil fuels are being used as the main energy source, the assessment explains.
In the EU in 2020, renewable energy sources accounted for less than a quarter of the final energy for heating and cooling, while the northern EU countries reached more than 50% of their renewable energy shares using biomass, according to the EEA.
Renewables used for heating in Europe mostly consist of solid biomass such as wood, with other renewable options such as heat pumps and solar thermal collectors far behind, the briefing shows. Looking ahead, more investments in clean heating technologies are needed to reduce gas consumption, climate impact and air pollution, the EEA writes. Read the assessment here. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)
EU’s Timmermans to visit Gabon for biodiversity summit. EU Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans will travel to Gabon on 1 and 2 March to attend the One Forest Summit.
The summit, organised under the aegis of France and Gabon, aims at advancing global efforts for climate action and biodiversity conservation, particularly among the world’s three major forest basins.
In Gabon, Timmermans will meet with government officials to discuss the global fight against deforestation and climate change. He will also exchange with a group of young people from the ‘One Forest Youth Forum’ as well as civil society groups. More information here. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)
- Consumers shouldn’t have to pick up the bill for expensive hydrogen experiments – Monique Goyens
- EU’s Nature Restoration Law: make or break for Swedish forests? – Gustaf Lind and Johanna Sandahl
- Ambitious, green reconstruction will make Ukraine and EU more secure – Anna Ackermann
- Ukraine: building back better and greener – Iryna Stavchuk
- There are many ways to rebuild Brazil: EU-Mercosur trade deal is not one of them – Audrey Changoe
- Europe needs an options-based climate strategy – Lee Beck
- 27 FEBRUARY- 1 MARCH. World Ocean Summit, Lisbon.
- 2 AND 9 MARCH. Trilogue negotiations: Revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED).
- 14 MARCH. Net Zero industry act – European critical raw materials act.
- 16 MARCH. Revision of EU’s internal electricity market design reform.
- 16 MARCH. Environment Council.
- 22 MARCH. Consumers package:
- Substantiating environmental claims
- Sustainable consumption of goods – promoting repair and reuse (the right to repair)
- 22-24 MARCH. UN Water Conference, New York.
- 23-24 MARCH. European Council.
- 28 MARCH. Energy Council.
- 18-19 APRIL. Informal meeting of environment ministers.
- 17 MAY. Proposal for EU hydrogen bank.
- 17 MAY. Measures to reduce the release of microplastics in the environment.
- JUNE. European Parliament Plenary vote on the EU Nature Restoration Law.
- 6-7 JUNE. EU Green Week.
- 19 JUNE. Energy Council.
- 20 JUNE. Environment Council.
- 21 JUNE. Greening transport package.
- 29-30 JUNE. European Council.
- 30 JUNE. Deadline for European Member States to update their revised National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).
SECOND HALF OF 2023
- Q4. Revision of REACH regulation.
- 26-27 OCTOBER. European Council.
- 30 NOVEMBER-12 DECEMBER. UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28), Dubai.
- 14-15 DECEMBER. European Council.