Renewable Energy

Europe hypocrisy: Amid shift to coal, what about climate goals?

Europe is buying coal, firing up plants amid Russian sanctions to meet electricity demand pushed up by heatwaves

By Binit Das
Published: Tuesday 28 June 2022

British colonisation weakened India’s ancient civilisation. Bengal was starved to feed London by the colonisers who extracted India’s wealth. 

In the same way, Africans were taken as slaves to North America. Western industrialisation was enabled by colonial extraction. 

As colonies, India and Africa contributed to the development of the West. Although these regions are independent now, the West continues to colonise them in a different way: Carbon Colonization.

The same Europe that lectures others on coal use and browbeat developing countries on their climate goals has conveniently shifted to coal because it needs energy.

Let's start with what happened in Germany earlier this month. The 56th session of the subsidiary bodies was held in Bonn. It was the United Nations Climate Change Conference. 

Representatives from nearly 200 countries and regions were there; European diplomats were also present. 

They faced two demands: Cut down emissions and provide financing to help developing countries tackle climate change. Did the Europeans agree? No, they did not. In fact, they want more coal, and they want it from the developing world.

The war in Ukraine has exposed Europe’s vulnerabilities. The European Union sanctioned Russia and so, Russia hit back by cutting gas supplies to Europe, pushing the continent to look for coal. 

Germany has fired up its coal plants again. The Netherlands has removed limits on production from coal plants. Denmark may do the same. 

Italy has declared a state of alert on energy. Italian energy plants have been hoarding coal for months now they might soon put it to use.

Why does Europe need more coal? They’re suffering a heat wave and they need more gas for their cooling systems. So, power consumption has gone up. 

But where will this power come from? Europe gets 40 per cent of its gas from Russia and that supply is not guaranteed. Russia is already cutting exports. Gazprom, Russian state-owned gas giant, supplies to Europe. It sends gas through the north stream pipeline to Germany and from there, the gas is distributed to the rest of the continent.

But since last week, the supply has not been steady. In the last seven days, Russia cut gas exports to Europe by more than 50 per cent. And so, they’re switching to coal, the Europeans. 

What happens to their climate goals? Europe has money so it can tilt the playing field. Let me explain how EU wants to phase out coal-fired plants by 2030. So, plants in Europe have to be shut down, then where will they get their coal? From other countries — the developing world.

They will supply coal to Europe, in fact they already are. Colombia is one of the countries doing that. In March alone, Europe imported 1.3 million tonnes of coal from Colombia. Colombian exports to the EU have increased by over 47 per cent this year, Braemar data showed. 

South Africa is another candidate. It shipped nothing to Europe in march last year. But this year, it sent 287,000 tonnes of coal. 

The United States, Australia and Indonesia are all supplying coal to Europe. But even together, they may not be able to meet the continent's growing demand. 

These countries have hit their production limits, plus there’s another problem: European banks won’t finance Russian coal purchases. So, energy companies in Europe have very limited options. They have to buy more coal from the developing world so that Europe can survive the heat wave. 

Again, what about their climate promises? Shutting down your coal plants and buying from outside hardly solves the problem. In the past Europe never tired of telling this to the world.

Extreme weather is causing a loss of $520 billion every year, according to the World Bank, and pushing 26 million people into poverty. 

Around 23 rich countries are responsible for half of the historical emissions,According to Global Carbon Project. Most of them are European: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom. 

Europe has only 7 per cent of the world’s population but it still uses almost 20 percent of the planet's resources. Recently, Germany rejected the European Union plan for ban on new fossil-fuel cars from 2035 as they are the makers for some of the biggest automobile giants including Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

I could continue, but here is the essence of the matter: If Europe wants coal, it can buy it. If Europe wants coal, it can keep its plant running. Because European air conditioners must keep running. 

When developing countries say they cannot stop using coal, they’re asked to shut down factories, told to ration coal. But when developing countries demand climate compensation and financing, they’re denied. 

This is classic European hypocrisy still treating the developing world as their colonies and bending rules to suit themselves.

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