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EU seeks Russian gas exit by turning to the most polluting fossil fuel
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The EU's Green Deal chief said countries planning to burn coal as an alternative to Russian gas could do so in line with the EU's climate goals.

"There are no taboos in this situation," Frans Timmermans told the BBC Radio 4 Today program on Thursday.

The EU, and many of its member countries, have strongly backed natural gas as a stepping stone as it seeks to cut the use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, and move toward renewables. Just a month ago, much to the chagrin of campaigners, the European Commission defined gas as a sustainable investment.

"Things have changed. I mean, history has taken a very sharp turn a week ago, and we need to come to terms with that historic change," said Timmermans.

"Poland and several other countries had plans to transit out of coal, and then temporarily use natural gas and then move to renewables. If they stay longer with coal, but then immediately moved to renewables, it could still be within the parameters we set for our climate policy," he said.

More than one-third of Europe's gas comes from Russia. Timmermans said the EU needs to “wean ourselves off the dependency … much quicker than we had anticipated.”

To that end, the EU will roll out a package of measures next week aiming to buffer the short-term impact of a disruption to Russian gas supply and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels altogether.

On Thursday, the International Energy Agency released an analysis finding Europe could cut Russian natural gas imports by more than one-third within a year. One "near-term option" would be to switch from gas power through "increased use of Europe’s coal-fired fleet or by using alternative fuels, such as oil, within existing gas-fired power plants," it said. But the agency did not recommend that approach as it came with "significant trade-offs."

Some countries are already eyeing a pivot back to coal.

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi told the country’s lawmakers last week that "coal-fired power plants may need to be reopened to fill any shortcomings in the short term" as a consequence of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

A Polish spokesperson said the situation was “too dynamic right now” to prejudge the longer-term policy response. But Energy Minister Anna Moskwa told POLITICO earlier this week the EU should "de-Russify" its energy sector.

The invasion of Ukraine "doesn’t help the case for gas," said Nareg Terzian, a spokesperson for the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers.

But he said "there’s an important distinction to be made between the role gas plays in the EU energy system, and where the EU gets it from." Looking for new sources of imports and drilling for new resources within Europe itself should also be part of the response, he said.

Timmermans said that while some countries might seek to burn coal now, the response should “not slow down our transition to renewables, because that's what we need to avert the other mortal danger we are facing, which is the climate crisis."

He gave the example of Germany, which is drafting plans to sharply ramp up its renewable goals. Climate and Economy Minister Robert Habeck on Sunday did not rule out delaying the country's coal and nuclear phaseouts, telling German public television that there were "no taboos."

But he said that delaying the nuclear exit wouldn’t help with replacing gas as any extension beyond this year would raise significant safety and supply issues, and that more coal was no alternative as Germany imports half of its hard coal from Russia.

European coal prices have also surged as traders try to secure non-Russian coal for utilities.

Energy prices, already critically high, have soared in the past few days as the war in Ukraine sent markets into shock. Timmermans said there was no way around the fact that European consumers would suffer.

“I will not be shy in saying to our citizens, since we’re being threatened in such a fundamental way, there is a price,” he said. “And it’s our responsibility to make sure that that price is paid in an equitable way that we protect our citizens against huge price increases in the energy market.”



https://www.politico.eu/article/coal-not...eal-chief/
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