Heavy lobbying from the gas industry could see us locked into fossil fuels for another 40-50 years. Rather than focusing on renewable energy and reducing demand, the EU and its governments want to build a new generation of pipelines and other gas infrastructure. The Southern Gas Corridor is an emblematic project supported by the industry in this regard.
A new report by Corporate Europe Observatory exposes the power of the gas industry lobby in Brussels, and the impact it has had on the EU’s energy policies. It explains who the big players are, the tactics used and the role lobbying has played in the construction of new pipelines such as the Southern Gas Corridor - BP’s scandal-ridden mega-pipeline from Azerbaijan to Italy - and MidCat - the Franco-Spanish interconnector.
According to the research, the gas industry spent over €100 million in 2016 and had more than 1000 lobbyists on its payroll. As a result of such a massive push advertising gas as a ‘clean’ fossil fuel, the EU Commission and national governments have embarked on a multi-billion euro gas infrastructure building programme.
But current EU gas plans are not just a disaster for the climate: they also threaten to devastate the communities and environment around extraction and infrastructure sites. The fact that many of the governments lined up to supply the gas are involved in blatant human rights abuses casts further doubt on the trajectory of EU gas policy.
The report brings the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the Western leg of the Southern Gas Corridor that would bring Azerbaijani gas to Italy via Greece and Albania, as a major example of such dangerous trajectory. This project (part of the Commission’s list of Projects of Common Interest) has been met with resistance from local communities in transit countries, and in Azerbaijan those attempting to denounce the project are faced with repression and jail.
To cover up such issues as well as flagrant human rights abuses, the promoters of the pipeline in Azerbaijan have employed a complex web of lobbying, as well as the so-called Caviar Diplomacy. Such activities even allegedly included bribery, as exposed by the latest Laundromat scandal, which saw prominent Azeri and European figures implicated. Among European figures involved is Kalin Mitrev, a board member of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is considering financing TAP after approving a $500 million loan to TANAP earlier this month. The report also points to the lobbying activities of the influential European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) as well as to Azerbaijan’s special relationship with Belgian political and economic elites.
TAP is receiving the highest level of political support from the European Commission, whose Energy Union Commissioner Maros Šefčovič has always been keen to ensure the Southern Gas Corridor ais steered at the highest political level in Europe. Šefčovič's friendly approach to the pipeline – states the report -- is reflected in his and his cabinet's 31 meetings with BP, SOCAR, Snam, and the TAP Consortium between January 2015 and August 2017, as opposed to a firm refusal to meet civil society groups.
But the climate needs to come before industry profits. The report calls for a moratorium on all new gas projects until they are assessed against the EU’s commitment to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C. If not, either Europe will be locked into gas until the second half of this century, or its taxpayers will be left footing a bill racked up by the gas industry as the infrastructure becomes a stranded asset.