From the Editor: A Green Deal with Russia and China? [Gas in Transition]
When you peel off the EU Green Deal, for example, or German climate policy, that is essentially what you are left with. In these schemes, renewables and renewables alone must save the planet. This includes pathways to “green” hydrogen of course, which is simply converted renewable energy.
And renewable energy is, essentially, solar and wind power. Renewables do include “bioenergy”, but policymakers know that much of the bioenergy we use is not “climate neutral” at all, and can be harmful to the environment, so they do not push for its expansion very much. Hydropower is also included, but that too has definite limits to growth. That leaves solar and wind.
This, then, is what European climate policy comes down to: ambitious “targets” for solar and wind power projected into the future, to 2030, or even 2050.
Does this make sense? As Friedbert Pflüger, the new chairman of the supervisory board of German gas industry association Zukunft Gas, points out in an interview with Gas in Transition: according to UN figures, the world has spent $2.5 trillion now on renewables, but these still only make up 3% of primary energy supply. To think that we can move this dial to 100%, and not just for electricity but for transport and heating as well, within any needed timeframe, is illusory.
We cannot power the world as we know it with solar and wind power alone. You don’t need to be a scientist or energy expert to see this. Any responsible climate policy must look for alternatives beyond renewables. These exist, although they all involve difficult choices.
Nuclear power is one sensible option, but is dismissed or made prohibitively expensive in many countries. This is not the place to go into this topic. From the opposition to nuclear power we can only infer that for many people climate change is not the biggest threat to humanity after all.
Another crucial option to pursue is carbon capture and storage (CCS) to enable the production of “blue” hydrogen. Here it must be said that the global gas industry has done too little, too late. If the industry believes in the future of gas and blue hydrogen, then it must put its money where its mouth is, and not wait until governments furnish the cash that’s needed. Governments, incidentally, do have a good tool to boost CCS: set sufficiently high CO2 prices.
What else can be done? Pflüger has an interesting suggestion to make. If I were an advisor to the EU, he says, I would tell them to make additional Green Deals with countries like Russia and China.
In May 2021, Pflüger’s consultancy Bingmann Pflüger International published a report, commissioned by the Dialog-Europa-Russland, which makes the case for one such Green Deal, with Russia. The report notes that Russia could benefit from European expertise, whereas for Europe, Russia “would be an ideal partner with its vast potential of wind, solar and biomass energy.”
Russia and the EU could work together in particular in the area of hydrogen, the report suggests. Russia is ideally placed to produce both “blue” and “green” hydrogen as well as hydrogen based on methane pyrolysis. This is also where the much-criticised Nord Stream 2 pipeline could enter the picture: it could “deliver large quantities of urgently needed hydrogen to the EU in the future.” The report further suggests that “compensation measures, such as afforestation, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCU & CCS), broadening supply chains and dependencies on rare earths and raw materials all represent additional cooperation themes in such a Wider European Green Deal.”
A similar deal could be pursued with China and India, Pflüger points out. The number one priority of global climate policy, he notes, should be to get rid of coal power. If China and India continue to use coal power on a massive scale, no climate measure taken in Europe is going to make much difference. This means Europe must find ways to help these countries reduce their use of coal power. This could best be done through Green Deals based on “smart diplomacy” and win-win solutions, not by preaching or taking measures that may be seen as hostile, such as carbon border taxes, according to Pflüger.
These suggestions make a lot of sense. The renewable energy targets Europe is setting for itself may look impressive, but they are hardly realistic. If Europe insists on going it alone, it may succeed in undermining its economy, and it won’t save the planet.