Open report of the russian ecological party «The greens»: «International environmental policy: declarations and reality»
We, the Russian Ecological Party “The Greens”, while analyzing the policies of the lobbyists of globalization and the European Union on the climate issue, energy strategy, and key issues of the global environmental agenda, consider it necessary to present to the public our own position on the current state of affairs in the field of ecology.
The Green Transition turns out to be a geopolitical program in which environmental aspects are not even taking a backseat, putting the desire for economic and technological dominance in disguise. Even nowadays, scientists predict not only economic, but also negative environmental consequences if this program is put in place.
The REPowerEU plan of abandoning Russian hydrocarbons presented on May 18, which sets itself up as an seamlessly blended part of the decarbonization program of the European economy, once again emphasizes the gap between the rhetoric of Brussels and its practical deeds.
We consider it necessary to develop and offer the world a Russian climate program based on scientific principles. Today we are talking about environmental sovereignty – the ability of the state and society to independently ensure the preservation of the natural environment, counter internal and external environmental threats and talk on an equal footing with the international community.
Russia’s indisputable geographical and natural advantages and scientific and technical potential allow it to develop its own environmental ideology, which one can’t help taking into account. The BRICS countries with their vast territories and the majority of the world’s population can become allies in this work. However, this does not exclude cooperation with all countries concerned and the world scientific community.
Numerous contradictions and internal inconsistency of recent events in the world environment became prerequisites for the preparation of this report.
1. The crisis in Russian-European relations after the start of the special military operation in Ukraine showed that the European Union deviated from its “green agenda” in an incredibly easy manner, including the issue of climate change.
As recently as six months ago, the Europeans declared at the international forum in Glasgow that they plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and completely stop using coal, and to come up to carbon neutrality by 2050.
Now, in order to replace Russian energy sources, the European Union is ready to increase greenhouse emissions. True, formally, the REPowerEU does not imply a return to coal; this issue is drawn a veil over by the leaders of the European Union in their speeches. But what actually happens?
Thus, in order to replace Russian oil, Brussels is negotiating with Canada to increase its oil supply out of oil-bearing sands. But Canadian oil is of much more greenhouse character than any other. This is due to the fact that it is extracted from oil sands by heating, making use of fuel oil or petroleum coke. In order to increase the production of that type of oil, Canada a while back withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, otherwise they would have to spend a lot of money to purchase quotas.
In order to replace Russian gas, Brussels relies on liquefied gas. But the carbon footprint produced by liquefied gas is 2-2.5 times greater than that from pipeline gas. This is due not only to the cost of fuel for its cooling to bring it to a liquid state, transportation on vessels and regasification, but also to a large number of leaks during the above operations.
The development of shale oil and gas production became only possible when the United States eased the requirements for mining companies in the mid-2000s. The damage caused to environment and human health by this method of oil and gas production is beyond doubt. The chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracturing inevitably penetrate into the groundwater and to the surface of the earth.
And finally, coal. It is clear to everyone that the European Union cannot get along without an increase in coal consumption. The European Union is preparing to extend the operation of coal plants, which were announced with great fanfare to close, and even to remove from storage some of those already closed.
Coal combustion products add to global warming. The production of 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity using gas accounts for emission of 450 g of CO2, whereas in case of oil - 800 g, and with coal - 900-1,200 g, depending on the grade. Besides, it adversely affects human health: coal microparticles enter the lungs and cause severe forms of various lung diseases, from asthma to cancer.
The fact that the European Commission does not give any comments on the use of the US shale gas, Canadian oil, and coal even adds to the impression that for the “leader of the fight for the world climate” the fight in question is not of paramount importance.
2. Even before the outbreak of the conflict, Brussels actively prevented the construction of new gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, while at the same time lamenting the large amount of much more greenhouse coal that is burned in the European Union. If the EU had really been fighting against global warming, it would never have “nixed” the South stream project. And it would help in every possible way to launch NS-2 faster. But geopolitical considerations are much more important for the European Union than environmental protection. The increase in foreign currency earnings of Russian companies seems to it a much more terrible disaster than a possible climate calamity.
3. In its energy strategy, the European Union gives priority to renewable energy sources. Wind and solar power plants, before everything else. But they are characterized by increased resource intensity. To produce a unit of energy, they need several times more resources like steel, cement, copper, rare earth metals, and the very energy required to produce all components. For some products, this gap amounts to tenfold figures.
Meanwhile, the mankind is already increasing the consumption of minerals at an absolutely phenomenal rate. Implementation of the energy transition plans as amended by the European Union will cause a sharp increase in pressure on nature, the size of which is hard to imagine.
In its 2021 special report “Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions”, the International energy Agency estimates a 41 – fold increase in the consumption of lithium by 2040 compared against 2020, graphite – by 25 times, cobalt – by 21 times, nickel – by 19 times,and rare earth elements – by 7 times.
In the Nature journal, the researchers tried to study the consequences of such growth on biodiversity (“Renewable energy production exacerbates mining threats to biodiversity”, September 2020). They estimated that 50 million square kilometers (37% of the land without Antarctica) will be under threat. 82% of such fields will produce minerals specifically for renewable energy sources. 7% of such territories are wildlife sanctuaries, 8% are areas of importance for biodiversity, and 16% are wild unspoiled nature. The conclusion they make is that “the threat to biodiversity caused by such explosive growth of the mining industry may exceed the threat that global warming poses to biodiversity.
It can be said without prejudice that never in the history of mankind there has been such a project like the European green deal that would cause such a catastrophic blow to the biosphere. If the European Union really wanted to build a “sustainable” and “carbon-free” energy industry, it should have developed its nuclear power industry. The current leaders of the European Union do not trust nuclear energy, they are afraid of it. However, the real fight against global warming and the real concern for the preservation of the biosphere does not provide much choice.
4. Solid biomass plays a significant role in the energy concept of the European Union. We used to call it just firewood, but fuel pellets are used to produce electric and thermal energy with increasing frequency. Solid biomass is included in the list of renewable energy resources, which, of course, it is. Biomass was automatically included in the list of “sustainable” energy sources. Besides, it was also decided not to include emissions from biomass burning in the total amount of greenhouse emissions. Biomass production for energy purposes is subsidized in the EU in the amount of several billion euros annually. As a result, biomass accounts for 60% of all renewable energy in the European Union and 11% of the total energy mix.
This led to disastrous aftermath. Scientists have determined that European forests continue to shrink, and more importantly, the decline of biomass in these forests has accelerated. Not every company fulfills its obligation to replant trees. And these replanted areas cannot be called full-fledged. Real forest is being cut down for energy purposes, and monoculture areas resulting from replanting trees are not forest. They are nothing more than “tree plantations”.
Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy produced from hardwood are the same as those of low-grade coal. That is twice as much as of natural gas. Just like burning coal, burning wood emits into the air not only CO2, but also many other harmful substances: soot, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds.
Scientists have been calling for several years now for biomass to be removed from the list of “sustainable” in the Renewable Energy Directive. The October 2021 report of the EU Audit Chamber on the outcome of European policy in this matter actually confirmed these concerns. The report finds “forest and biodiversity policy” to be “ineffective”, and such an admission from the EU auditors is no small feat.
On May 17, 2022, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment proposed amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive that would not recognize part (but only part!) of “solid biomass” as “sustainable”.
Obviously, resistance to even these, very modest endeavors, will be very strong both at the level of separate countries and at the level of entrepreneurs, who over the past 25 years have invested huge sums of money in this business following the promises that it would be further heavily subsidized and protected.
Frans Timmermans, responsible for the European Green Deal, said at the Glasgow Climate Change Summit: “Frankly speaking, keeping biomass in our energy mix is essential for us to get rid of our dependence on fossil fuels.” These words were confirmed in the REPowerEU program, where again much attention is paid to the use of biomass for energy.
5. Betting on biofuels has led to another environmental problem, and not only environmental. Since the beginning of the 21st century, agricultural crops have been heavily subsidized for further processing to be added to automobile fuel: both gasoline and diesel fuel. This activity has resulted in significant areas now being cultivated for fuel rather than food.
The value of such activities for energy is questionable. For some crops, like corn, it takes more energy to grow and process it into ethanol than the energy that can be extracted from that ethanol. The value for climate is also questionable, especially if natural biosystems – forests and fields – are destroyed and plowed up to grow crops. But what’s more important, these crops create tremendous competition for growing crops for food. 40% of U.S. corn goes to ethanol processing, not to the consumers. With food crises regularly emerging and famine predicted by leading experts, growing fuel in the fields becomes an unattainable luxury.
At the beginning of the century, the European Union set a goal to increase the share of biofuels in its transport energy mix from 0.15% in 2000 to 20% in 2020. Scientists’ calculations were not taken into account. And now that this share is 3.5%, the EU is trying to backtrack it, which is not easy. Heavy subsidization of biofuels has led to unwelcome consequences, not only in Europe, but all over the world. Millions of hectares of forests and wild fields have disappeared, and huge sums of money have been invested in processing plants.
6. The EU energy system, based on renewable energy and premature abandonment of classical energy, is no guarantee of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A clear demonstration of this was 2021, the year of the global energy crisis beginning. With the slightest disturbance of the normal course of things (winter wind was a little lighter than usual, spring was a little cooler than usual), Europeans started to panic and increase their consumption of fossil fuels. The increase in gas prices, which the European Union has been particularly active in fighting, was especially steep. So Europeans started burning coal, fuel oil, and diesel fuel, which are much more “greenhouse” than natural gas.
It was a logical thing to do. Europeans started their energy transition amid promises of certain political and financial and industrial groups to ensure technological breakthroughs in the near future necessary for renewable energy to become the basis of the EU energy system. The EU ignored its own experts, gambled and lost. No technological breakthroughs ensued. Renewable energy sources are still “add-on systems” that are superimposed on the good old energy system, which is supposed to work when there is no wind or sun.
Adventurism concerning energy has resulted in the European Union having two energy systems. The “old” one, which it is already trying to reduce, and the “new” one, which has never become a full-fledged replacement for the “old” one, and it is unclear when it will. Also, the latter needs vast resources (both material and human) and large areas for its location due to the low density of energy it uses. Such an incomplete hybrid fails at any hint of a crisis leading to a steep rise in the consumption of the greenest but most reliable energy sources.
With the development of renewable energy sources, the recycling of overage wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries is posing a tangible problem. Burials of wind turbine blades are already impressive in scale. Their explosive growth started at the beginning of the century and now the first generation will be massively decommissioned. The industry expects to make fully recyclable blades only starting in 2030.
7. Two years ago, the European Union brought back the idea of “hydrogen energy”. Hydrogen is once again touted as the fuel of the future. One of its main presented qualities is that hydrogen itself is “non-greenhouse” and emits no greenhouse gases when burned. This is all very true. Hydrogen has no greenhouse properties by default.
However, upon closer examination, hydrogen’s “innocence” in terms of climate has turned out to be highly questionable. According to scientific research, hydrogen can still lead to an increase in the greenhouse effect. It is caused by its reaction with other gases in the atmosphere. Particularly, it prevents the breakdown of methane molecules, the prolongation of whose life in the atmosphere comes at a price in terms of climate. At a certain level of hydrogen leakage into the atmosphere, the greenhouse gas savings from replacing natural gas (or oil) with hydrogen are reduced to zero.
However, the EU is unwilling to divert enormous material and human resources to producing hydrogen locally, close to the potential consumer. Preliminary agreements on its production are being concluded with countries that are far away from the European Union. This involves transporting hydrogen to Europe, sometimes using hydrogen liquefaction to deliver it by sea. But every hydrogen operation and every kilometer of gas pipelines that the EU threatens to build to transport it from other countries raises the chances of hydrogen leaking into the atmosphere. Because of the small size of its molecule, hydrogen is much more volatile than other gases, including methane. The unwillingness of the European Union to engage in hydrogen production itself casts great doubt on the sincerity of Brussels’ climate intentions.
8. For a long time, the European Commission has been under fire from environmentalists due to its passion for concluding agreements on various free trade zones. Globalization of the world economy entails a number of adverse consequences for the environment and for combating global climate change in particular. This process is incented by transferring the production of goods and services to countries where it is cheaper. It is often realized by loosening environmental requirements. Moreover, it leads to a dramatic increase in transportation use for transporting raw materials and finished products around the world. Transportation is oil, oil is greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Both are already at a high level in the world. A classic example: the Chinese buy oak lumber in France. They take it to China, and then the parquet and furniture made of this oak is transported to France. 35,000 kilometers, lots of gasoline, fuel oil and diesel fuel – all this for making more money. It’s probably good for world trade. But you should not present yourself as the main protector of nature and the earth’s climate by strenuously practicing such methods.
The European Union has gone to great lengths to lobby for not mentioning the globalization of world trade as a major factor in global warming in the Paris Agreement. And it actively continues to do so. Since 2015, it has concluded several agreements of this kind (Vietnam, Japan, etc.) and there are two dozen more in the process of negotiation. There is a choice to be made. Either you encourage people to lower the temperature in their homes, or you make money on globalization.
The Russian Green Party is ready to declare what everyone really knows, but is too shy to say out loud. The unexpected reorientation to not exceeding the 1.5 degree threshold is a political manipulation of the European Union. Achieving climate neutrality even by 2100 is highly questionable, and doing it by 2050 is fantasy.
We realize that decarbonization is an extremely difficult process, that it is almost impossible to go through it without losses for the world economy. The preamble to the Paris Agreement explicitly states: “Countries may be affected not only by climate change, but also by the impacts of the measures taken in response to it.” And this is where a thoroughly considered collaborative approach is needed. An upper-level expert evaluation of the proposed solutions is required. The European Union’s climate schemes lack this level of expertise. Engaging in decarbonization according to such plans means guaranteed devastation for humanity, the consequences of which would be comparable to the potential damage of climate deregulation.
The world now puts solving the climate issue on hold. It seems reasonable not to wait until we are again given ready-made solutions, but to meet the next “climate gamble” fully armed. Which means we have to develop our own climate program and offer it to mankind.
The more scientific this program is and the more justly it deals with the social issues that will inevitably arise, the more allies we will find abroad for our program. We are open to collaborate with all public, scientific, and political organizations that are willing to build environmental and climate cooperation on an equal footing.