20 Jan 2014

EU energy crisis: prepare to abandon energy targets

This weekend I found myself in another part of Europe attending a conference on the future of our collective energy needs. The discussion presented an extraordinarily shocking, and terrifying vision for our future prospects.

Put crudely, natural gas in Britain, and most parts of the EU, is costing precisely three times what it costs in the United States. This year every American will enjoy an extra $1300 in his or her pocket, thanks to the rise of shale gas. By 2016 this could reach $4,000 per American citizen. This is big money that can be used to buy products and boost the US economy.


In contrast, the average Brit will suffer an annual increase this year of 200 euros (£165) to pay for their energy needs – thus leaving still less to spend on UK produced products.

There were a number of big business leaders and European civil service technocrats present. The sum total of our deliberations was that European energy policies and practice are in chaos and we collectively face dangerously expensive supplies, as well as the increasing threat of grave shortages.

It’s a staggering truth given that the EU’s origins were the old European iron and coal grouping. Twenty years after the Eastern Bloc countries joined we still have no EU-wide energy grid.

Get fracking?

In our discussion, the answers to this crisis were grim. The first was for Europe to get fracking, right now, wherever shale gas exists. Going nuclear is a major option too, irrespective of disposal threats. Reconsidering coal was even talked about.

But there was a frightening enthusiasm to terminate all green levies. You may wonder whether I had actually left Britain for this conference. Actually I was 1,000 miles away and the talk was of abandoning the targets for 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020, much along the lines that the coalition government here is pursuing.

At the same time we were urged to consider looking at who supplies our gas right now. Expensive gas comes in from Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi. Europe’s cheapest gas comes from Russia, direct by pipeline – indeed Russian supplies account for 30 per cent of Europe’s gas consumption. By 2016 it could rise to 50 per cent.

And yet Europe’s relations with Russia are dire. So it is clearly in all our interests to improve these relations at every level – more partnerships, more technical exchanges and the rest. It will come hard, particularly for those campaigning for human rights and attempting to bear down on organised crime.

Getting cosy with Russia

But in reality, does getting cosy with Moscow really come any harder than the appalling compromises entered into with Saudi and Qatar to obtain their oil and gas?

What will come hardest to those campaigning on climate change will be the abandoning of sustainability targets in the energy sector. Yet all these unpalatable options are now in play, as Europe faces the appalling consequences of lack of competitiveness brought about by currently consuming some of the most expensive gas in the world. It is now commonplace for European governments, including the British, to simply abandon all the collectively agreed targets.

I left the conference downhearted. The fact is that we, Europe, emit 15 per cent of the world’s C02. If we cut 20 per cent, we save 3 per cent of the world’s emissions. It brings me no joy to say it: we are going to find ourselves willingly abandoning most of the sustainable energy targets. We had better face up to it.

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