The European Commission is sending its energy commissioner, Kadri Simson, on a gas lobby tour at a time when climate change targets are possibly being reassessed in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Simson on Thursday (7 April), is opening speaker at the Gas Infrastructure Europe’s (GIE) annual conference in Budapest, which includes state secretaries from mainly eastern European countries and gas industry insiders.
A GIE spokesperson told EUobserver that the conference aims to build momentum for new supply routes and create new liquified natural gas terminals.
Then, on 14 June, she will attend and speak at a gas lobby event organised by the Brussels-based umbrella energy network, Eurogas.
Simson regularly attends gas-lobby events as part of her job — but Thursday’s opening at GIE comes at a sensitive time.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest climate report on Monday (4 April) with one clear recommendation: no more investments in fossil fuels — any investments that will be made, are likely to become future financial losses or stranded assets, in industry parlance.
Operating existing gas, oil and coal facilities until the end of their lifespans will put the 1.5-degree Celsius target out of reach.
“It is a file of shame,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said on Monday. “A litany of broken climate promises that put us firmly on track toward an unliveable world.”
Meanwhile, GIE continues to push for the expansion of gas-import capacity.
GIE’s pro-Russia gas links
There is considerable political momentum to find alternatives to Russian gas. But EU countries have increased their Russian gas dependency from 20 percent in 2014 to 40 percent today
Advocacy group Global Witness published a report on Thursday, showing that GIE lobbied for EU reliance on Russian gas. It has also long opposed calls to end EU dependency on Russian gas.
Global Witness says GIE still represents the interests of Astora and Gazprom Germania, two subsidiaries that until last week were wholly-owned by Gazprom, a Kremlin-controlled oil and gas company.
Gazprom last week announced it had terminated its “participation” in Gazprom Germania and Astora. The German government then announced it would it would nationalise both companies until at least 30 September.
When asked about Gazprom’s membership, GIE secretary-general Boyana Achovski said in a statement that Russian gas is currently excluded from sanctions.
“GIE does not represent the entities who buy or sell gas,” she said. “GIE does not decide where gas is coming from [and] the regulated part of our infrastructure has a legal obligation to transport or store for licensed shippers.”
“GIE has aligned their interest with Gazprom and Putin’s top representatives for years,” Barnaby Pace, lead author of the Global Witness report, told EUobserver.
It does not matter that the EU is now shifting its attention to gas from other countries. “More gas infrastructure locks the EU into more gas use. This suits Russian gas producers just fine,” he said.
Meanwhile, a lobbying agency representing companies that, until only days ago, were subsidiaries of Gazprom, still has access to the heart of EU policymaking.
When asked why Simson was attending these gas-lobby gatherings, a commission could not provide further details before the publication of this article.
The EU has announced plans to reduce Russian gas imports by at least two-thirds before the end of the year, but European gas importers still buy gas and oil worth up to €800m a day, and the EU has so far ruled out sanctions on energy and gas.
But mounting evidence of mass graves, the systemic rape of Ukrainian women and summary executions of civilians by Russian forces have increased calls to sanction Russian gas.
EU ambassadors are expected to discuss a new round of sanctions on Wednesday (6 April), which could also include restrictions on energy exports. But Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Hungary have so far opposed a ban on Russian gas.