Fracking has a serious public relations problem. The latest government opinion poll found that just 16% support fracking, with 32% opposed. And the more heavily industry pushes, the more local communities dig their feet in. Recently, Conservative-controlled Derbyshire county council planning committee voted nine to one not to support a fracking application by Ineos - the fourth example in less than fortnight of English councils opposing onshore gas plans.
But will councils in the future have the chance to vote on fracking applications or will the decision be taken out of their hands?
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has opened a formal inquiry: a consultation on whether guidance for local authorities taking planning decisions on fracking should be updated. And as part of this they have included the question of whether "applications for fracking should be dealt with as national infrastructure under the 2008 Planning Act".
This would allow shale gas companies to apply directly to the Planning Inspectorate, bypassing the local council. Currently the local 'mineral planning authority' with the authority to decide applications is your county council, unitary authority or metropolitan council (although their decision can be overridden by the Secretary of State as happened in Lancashire). National Parks are also mineral planning authorities.
If fracking is classed as 'nationally significant infrastructure', applications would instead be examined by an inspector and the decision made by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
While individuals can submit evidence to the Select Committee, Louise Somerville from Frack Free Somerset argues that the most useful thing campaigners can do is raise the issue with their local councils. "Let them know that their say over fracking applications is about to be taken away. And write to your local paper - all councillors read it!"
As a member of the Paris climate agreement, the UK has signed up to play its part in the overall aim: "Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change."
The UK's emissions targets under the Climate Change Act are to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Emissions budgets for five year periods are determined by the Committee on Climate Change. It's extremely concerning that according the Committee we are well off track to meet the cuts we need to make by 2030, let alone 2050.
But the organisation Plan B have been asking a different question - are the targets themselves sufficient to meet the aims of the Paris climate agreement?
In fact the Committee on Climate Change themselves have agreed that the UK's current targets are less ambitious than the Paris agreement. Plan B are supporting eleven concerned citizens, aged between nine and 79 to take the government to court to revise our emissions reductions targets to make them more ambitious. They include a Rabbi, a medical doctor, university students worried about their futures, a single mother in social housing, and a lawyer from the British Virgin Islands who witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Irma at first hand.
Supporters of the case include Professor Sir David King, the government's former Chief Scientific Advisor. It is part of a trend of citizen climate cases aiming to make governments act, and if successful would set a very important precedent.
Commitments made in the government ’s Clean Growth Strategy will not be affected: existing Contracts for Difference (including Hinkley Point C) and existing commitments under regulatory schemes such as the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in Tariffs, and up to £557 million (in 2011-12 prices) for additional Contracts for Difference (most of the latter to be spent on offshore wind).
There are possible get out clauses - new levies are possible if they will 'have a net reduction effect on bills', so energy efficiency measures or subsidy free contracts could be allowed. Solar energy and onshore wind (if it is allowed) might just manage subsidy-free. But what about other renewable technologies with long-term potential? The announcement puts another question mark, for example, over the future of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project. What if wind energy just needs a small subsidy to manage (and would still provide cheaper energy than nuclear)?
At a time when decisive action on climate change is more desperately needed than ever, this budget is a massive backward step and a missed opportunity to demonstrate that the recent Clean Growth Strategy was not just rhetoric. The Green Alliance sum up the budget neatly as "a picture of grey indecision, not green growth", and points to calculations that a push for renewables and efficiency in the budget could have saved consumers £1.7 billion per year by 2025, and £5.3 billion by 2030.
Alongside this, Treasury predictions also make concerning reading. Forecasts are given for generation capacity for low carbon electricity projects supported under government schemes (so excluding any that might be built with zero subsidies). For all technologies except offshore wind, the Treasury is predicting that government schemes will lead to new capacity during 2020-25 of more or less... zero. For those inclined to play 'spot the difference', this is not exactly the picture that the recent Clean Growth Strategy was selling.
The first table below is from, Control for Low Carbon Levies. The second shows additional capacity from the previous year, calculated from the first table. This shows even more clearly the Treasury's predictions for no new low carbon capacity to be supported by government schemes in the first half of the 2020s except for offshore wind. This looks like either binning renewable growth or a massive gamble on the renewable industry's ability to deliver subsidy-free (and possibly with new onshore wind in England still ruled out).
(click for larger versions)
Other Budget announcements:
Yet another tax break for North Sea Oil, which has for the last two years already a been a net drain on the public budget (chart right from here, via @LeoHickman). This was described as “an innovative tax policy that will encourage new entrants to bring fresh investment to a basin that still holds up to 20 billion barrels of oil”.
There was also concern that the government's failure to raise the carbon price floor is not sufficient to drive coal off the market - and that the current level does nothing to favour clean energy over new gas power (discussion here)
There was support for electric vehicles in the budget: £400m more for EV charging networks, £100m for sales incentives, more tax breaks for corporate uses, and more money for R&D.
But for the eighth year running the fuel duty was frozen - a policy that has cost the Treasury £46 billion over that time, and contrasts strongly with the Chancellor's statement, "We owe it to our children that the air they breathe is clean." As does the limited nature of diesel disincentives. The increase in vehicle excise duty on diesel vehicles – a tax paid when vehicles are bought – would amount to an increase of just £20-40 for a typical family car, up to a few hundred for the biggest cars. And it was made clear that vans would be exempt from this.
As Caroline Lucas pointed out on Twitter, to give this some context the cost of driving and domestic flights have both decreased by 16% by 1997, while the cost of taking the train has increased by 23% and buses and coaches by 33%.
Finally, there was a welcome promise to "investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste".
There are some positive steps forwards. Home insulation had all but ground to a halt with the removal of schemes to support it - the promise of £3.6 billion investment to upgrade around a million homes is welcome. Another £1 billion is promised for electric cars and £1.2 for cycling and walking.
£900 million is promised for research and development, with £460 million of this going to nuclear, £265 million on electricity storage and grid technologies and £177 million to renewable technologies. The Hinkley Point cost fiasco has clearly not blunted appetites for nuclear energy.
Offshore wind is given a boost, with plans for up to 10GW of offshore wind to be built in the 2020s. Yet onshore wind still appears to be off the menu (except in Scottish islands). It is extraordinary that the cheapest form of renewable energy is still blocked from competing on a level playing field, despite being relatively popular with the public.
There are also no clear measures to boost solar, another cheap renewable technology, despite deployment having plummetted after government cuts. The Solar Trade Association expressed disappointment that the tax and regulatory framework was still not giving them a level playing field.
Among the omissions, it is noticeable that there is no mention of fracking - is the government cooling off its enthusiasm for shale gas?
Another issue, as we expected, almost entirely absent, is the thorny question of growing aviation emissions. How can keeping within our carbon budgets be compatible with a new runway at Heathrow? (spoiler - it can't)
There are many more policies trailed in the strategy, some detailed, some less clear at this stage.
But perhaps the most important thing to note about the strategy is that it is not expected to be sufficient to reduce our emissions enough to stay within the UK's carbon budgets from 2023. As the table below shows, the gap widens further from 2028 onwards. This failure would make it much harder to achieve longer term targets from the 2030s onwards.
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have announced that they are 'considering legal options' around these missed targets. The report itself argues that there is no legal issue and that over-achievement could be carried forward from previous budgets, international carbon credits could be purchased, or even that future budgets could be made even more challenging to compensate for under-achievement.
The Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body which advises the government on its obligations under the Climate Change Act has set out a firm position. While welcoming the Clean Growth Strategy, it states
"We note that the Clean Growth Strategy suggests that ‘flexibilities’ in the Climate Change Act could be used to meet the carbon budgets in place of domestic action. This should not be the plan. The clear intention of the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets is that they are delivered through domestic action to keep the UK on the lowest cost path to the 2050 target to reduce emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels. That should be the goal, without the use of accounting flexibilities or reliance on international carbon credits."
When international aviation and shipping were left out of the 2008 UK Climate Change Act, this caused concern. Would cuts elsewhere be cancelled out by increasing emissions from these sectors - the equivalent of our carbon bloated economy going on a diet, but one in which all calories are counted (except those from chocolate and cake)?
The Committee on Climate Change, set up under the Act, had a solution. They set a 'planning assumption' - a limit they recommended the government keep aviation emissions below - of 37.5Mt carbon a year. The committee sets gradually shrinking carbon budgets for other sectors of the economy to allow for this level of emissions from aviation. So the overall aim of the Act - to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050 - can be achieved in a meaningful way.
It is difficult to reduce emissions from flying, since it's inherently energy intensive. Recognising this, aviation was therefore given a generous allowance, limiting emissions at 2005 levels, rather than the dramatic cuts expected from other sectors.
But from the government's support for a third runway at Heathrow airport, and their current consultation on aviation strategy which focuses on growth, it appears they have no intention of keeping to these limits. The idea is that increasing emissions from a growing aviation industry can be dealt with internationally, freeing us from any obligation to attempt to limit emissions here. Unfortunately these solutions have about as much credibility as the click-bait diet ideas that pop up on the internet: "This one weird tip" which produces amazing weight loss. They seem too good to be true - and they are.
So what's going on with aviation in the UK?
The government is currently consulting on its aviation strategy with an initial "call for evidence," asking for views on forthcoming consultations on its six 'objectives'. This closes 11.45pm on Friday 13 October.
You can respond here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Update: we've had some glitches reported with the consultation form so you may do better typing responses to relevant questions into an email
Limiting carbon emissions is not one of the six key objectives, although number five is to "support growth while tackling environmental impacts". Whether an absolute limit to growth might be needed to avoid unacceptable climate or other environmental impacts doesn't seem to be up for discussion. (The other objectives are to 'help the aviation industry work for its customers'; to 'ensure a safe and secure way to travel'; to 'build a global and connected Britain'; to 'encourage competitive markets'; to 'develop innovation, technology and skills').
The consultation on environmental impacts will not even take place until the second half of 2018. Yet by then MPs will have already been asked to vote on building a new runway at Heathrow, in the absence of an overarching strategy or, apparently, any explanation on how aviation expansion can be compatible with cutting our emissions under the Climate Change Act or the Paris climate agreement.
How did we get here? In 2013, the Department for Transport was already predicting that aviation emissions would reach 47Mt by 2050, well over the intended limit of 37Mt. Despite having previously ruled out a new runway at Heathrow ('no ifs, no buts'), David Cameron set up the Airports Commission to look into the 'problem' of airport capacity in the South East, in other words, to decide between the competing claims of Heathrow and Gatwick.
The Airports Commission recommended Heathrow expansion. Their report included a rather hypothetical scenario in which the government is willing to expand Heathrow with one hand and introduce drastic measures to restrict flying on a national level with the other hand (a heavy carbon tax for example). This is both far-fetched and diametrically opposed to the government's approach as set out in the Aviation Strategy consultation. Although the government did not refer to this scenario in setting out their business case for Heathrow expansion, it enabled them to maintain that the Airports Commission had found it to be possible to expand Heathrow within existing carbon budgets.
The Committee on Climate Change wrote to the government in November 2016 asking for clarification: would the aviation emissions 'planning assumption' be kept to - in which case how would the business case for a new Heathrow runway be justified? Or if not, would they need to deepen the cuts demanded from other sectors in their forecast beyond the 85% cuts already required? Would this be possible?
The government have so far been remarkably reticent on providing official answers to these questions. But there is no indication that anything meaningful will be done to limit aviation emissions on a domestic level, with some 700 additional flights every day planned from a Heathrow third runway and alongside this, the Aviation Strategy consultation talking of growth at regional airports.
In this context, the statement in the Aviation Strategy consultation, "The UK’s carbon budgets have been set at a level that accounts for international aviation and shipping emissions, so that the UK is on a trajectory that could be consistent with a 2050 target that includes these emissions", is at the very least deeply misleading.
What's the problem with tackling aviation emissions 'on an international level'?
On the face of it, this would seem logical. The problem is that the international process is led by the aviation industry. Since their main priority is is continued expansion, the targets they set are inadequate, and the means proposed to achieve these are about as credible as click-bait diet tips.
The goal set under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is 'carbon neutral growth from 2020'. But to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to cut emissions dramatically, not just level off.
CORSIA would rely heavily on offsetting (paying for projects to reduce emissions elsewhere), but this has been shown to be unreliable as a way of reducing global emissions. For example, a review found that 85% of the offset projects under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism failed in the objective of reducing emissions. Projects may be double counted (included towards nations' emissions reductions targets) rather than additional. The UK Committee on Climate Change has said that the UK should cut its own emissions and not count offset credits towards its targets.
Importantly, aviation's climate change impact is around double what it appears from looking at CO2 alone. Factors such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), water vapour, contrails, and soot and sulphate aerosols vary, making exact calculations tricky. But it is clear that the CORSIA proposal which allows aviation to grow while offsetting only carbon dioxide emissions would leave perhaps half of its growing climate impact unaccounted for.
The CORSIA deal also predicts that a large part of new aviation emissions can be reduced by 'additional technologies and biofuels'. 'Additional technologies' are uncertain. Biofuels could be used to replace a small percentage of fuel, but are more expensive than petroleum based fuel. To cut costs and bridge the price gap, currently only one biofuel appears feasible for use at scale - palm oil (detailed analysis from Biofuelwatch). Palm oil cultivation has been associated with deforestation on a significant scale, most notoriously in Indonesia, where palm oil expansion has harmed wildlife such as orangutans, now critically endangered. Burning forest on Indonesia's peat soils to clear land for palm oil and other crops has triggered uncontrolled wildfires, emitting further vast quantities of carbon.
You can read more in WWF's report explaining the problems with CORSIA.
The 'Clean Growth Strategy': an unreliable diet?
The long-awaited 'Clean Growth Strategy' is due out on Thursday. This is supposed to set out how greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced in line with the Paris, and the expectation is that while it will contain significant steps forward, aviation emissions will be ignored. This could be, then, the equivalent of having salad for lunch and dinner while stuffing your face with chocolate at midnight... but really, it is no joke. If the government wishes to discard climate change targets it should state so up front. Since it appears to be doing just that, a strong challenge in defence of the Climate Change Act is vital.
Just a few years ago, the impacts of climate change had to be looked for: now, as extreme weather events come frequently and ever more destructive, they are hard to keep up with. However, beyond Harvey, many have not made the headlines. This is a brief summary of some of the extraordinary weather impacts across four continents in the last couple of months, as we continue to 'load the dice' for catastrophe by altering our climate.
For ongoing updates, follow the Campaign against Climate Change on Twitter. We also recommend the monthly bulletins from The World at 1C.
Early in the morning on 14 August, heavy rains in Freetown, Sierra Leone triggered a mudslide. Muddy rubble cascaded down the mountainside, destroying homes and burying people inside them. The death toll from this tragedy has now risen to over a thousand.
In the same week, over 200 people are believed to have died after a mudslide hit a fishing village in DR Congo.
Since then intense rain has reached Benue, the central state of Nigeria. More than 110,000 people have fled their homes because of major flooding. The floods have also hit thousands of homes in Niger, forcing stranded residents to take shelter in local schools. This Quartz Africa piece has more information.
In contrast to these sudden floods, the food crisis in East Africa has been building up through prolonged droughts. These, combined in some places with ongoing conflict, have left more than 16 million people hungry. The famine and food shortages affecting Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and South Sudan are the worst in decades.
You can donate to communities affected by the mudslide in Freetown here and here. Donate to communities affected by drought in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia here.
Around 40 million people in north western India, Nepal and Bangladesh have been affected by catastrophic monsoon floods. In Bangladesh alone, a third of the land has been inundated in the worst floods for 100 years and nearly half the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, home to 220 million people was flooded. Floods brought the city of Mumbai to a standstill and caused a building to collapse, killing 21. In Karachi, Pakistan floods killed 23 people.
Donate to communities affected by flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India here and here and here.
Hurricane Irma has intensified into the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record, around the size of France, with sustained winds of over 185 miles per hour for more than 24 hours and gusts over 200 mph. It passed directly over the tiny island of Barbuda, destroying around 90% of housing there and skirted Puerto Rico, leaving two thirds of the island without power, in damage to the power system which could take months to repair. It caused further damage in Cuba, collapsing buildings and flooding Havana, and then hit Florida with winds of 130mph, then slowing as it moved up the peninsula but causing further damage. So far 31 deaths have been reported across all countries affected.
Irma of course follows closely on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which looks to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history, causing extraordinary flooding in Houston. Harvey killed an estimated 47 people and displaced more than one million after causing wreckage in an area stretching for nearly 500km.
There is a clear link between hurricane intensity and rainfall and the abnormally warm waters of both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
You can donate to communities affected by Hurricance Harvey here and here and here.
Meanwhile, the eastern United States has been battling wildfires. Dry hot conditions during July and August continued a trend towards increased wildfires. Los Angeles saw the largest wildfire in history on its outskirts. Major fires burned in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. For weeks, people in the west have been breathing air polluted by smoke with significant health implications. North of the border, British Columbia saw its worst wildfire season on record with 11,000 square kilometres burnt. Shockingly, there was even a major wildfire in Greenland.
Seasonal monsoon rains regularly cause floods and loss of life in South Asia, but the floods that have swept north western India, Nepal and Bangladesh this year are exceptionally devastating. At the time of writing the UN OCHA are reporting that 41 million have been affected by the floods, with over 900 killed. Other reports from officials are that the death toll is already over a thousand. This could increase as rains continue in some flood-affected areas and flood waters move south.
Villagers are taken to a relief camp in Assam, India
The scale is vast: in Bangladesh alone, a third of the land has been inundated in the worst floods for 100 years. The loss of crops as well as homes threatens longer term food supplies.
Tens of thousands of houses, as well as schools and hospitals, have been destroyed and displaced people in all the nations affected are in urgent need of life-saving support. Governments and aid agencies are struggling to provide shelter, food and clean water, while fearing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery which frequently follow floods. Contaminated water and limited shelter and facilities put young children particularly at risk.
Families have lost everything. “With the floods washing away everything … there is not even a trace of our small thatched hut,” said Lakshmi Das, a mother of three, living in Kaliabor, Assam, reported in the Guardian. “We do not even have a second pair of clothes to wear. The government is not providing any aid.”
Men wade through flooded land in Bangladesh (above) while the aerial picture below shows flooding in Nepal.
Climate change is widely acknowledged to 'load the dice' in favour of more extreme rainfall events, since warmer air can hold more moisture. The graph below shows record-breaking rainfall events, consistent with rising temperatures (from here, original research summary here).
In the long term, a move away from fossil fuels is the only solution. If you would like to donate today to help those affected, Save the Children have an emergency appeal.
Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.
The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.
For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.
While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.
"It's time we all burst our carbon bubbles" declared New Scientist magazine in a leader published on 5 July, extolling the virtues of divesting one's current account, pension etc. from fossil fuels. We couldn't agree more. And so we'd suggest that New Scientist puts its money where its mouth is, and breaks sponsorship ties with Shell.
The annual exhibition 'New Scientist Live', taking place this autumn, sees Shell returning as a sponsor. And not just any sponsor. Shell's logo will be splashed all over the 'Earth Zone' covering life on earth and indeed climate change. In one sense it is extremely appropriate for the issue of climate change to be sponsored by Shell (see also the proposal that hurricanes should be named after fossil fuel companies).
But Shell's business model is contributing directly to a shocking decline in the biodiversity that the 'Earth Zone' is celebrating. A recent in-depth study by investors Schroder looked at the different elements that need to change if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. The overall conclusion is clear - climate change is accelerating and we are on course to blow our 2C budget soon (let alone the aim of keeping temperature rise to a less dangerous 1C). What was also illuminating in the report was the difference between the elements. For example, renewable capacity has been increasing, but not fast enough: it is on a trajectory consistent with a 3.1C increase, electric vehicle progress is less positive on a 4.1C trajectory. Coal burning is falling so there's a more positive message there: it's consistent with keeping to 2.2C. Oil and gas production however is rated as on track for a 7.8C temperature increase.
We expect that visitors to New Scientist Live will learn about Shell's investment in green energy (one percent of its total business). Shell also likes to highlight its work on energy efficiency. One thing that will probably not be highlighted is that at Shell's recent AGM, a motion was rejected to set emissions targets in line with the Paris climate agreement, with the board arguing that this was "not in the best interests of the company".
Fossil fuel companies such as Shell may publically express support for the Paris climate agreement, but they refuse to consider any scenario that does not involve dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come as realistic or worth aiming towards. Their lobbying behind the scenes also tends to be less progressive than their public positions. Researchers last year calculated that Shell spent at least $22 million annually on 'obstructive climate influencing'.
Shell's stand at the 2016 New Scientist Live
Allowing companies like Shell to greenwash their image through events such as these helps reduce the pressure on them to change course towards genuine sustainability - it gives them social licence to continue. There have been passionate campaigns with some significant successes to get arts organisations to quit sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies. It could well be argued that an organisation representing science has an even greater responsibility to avoid implicitly giving endorsement to oil companies. By partnering with Shell in an event covering the natural world and our response to climate change, New Scientist is effectively telling the public that oil companies' refusal to consider the radical changes in energy use demanded by climate change is A-OK. And why would the public not believe that message when the scientific experts are telling them so?
There is another concern. Will the overall message on climate science and the action needed be accurate, or will the choice of sponsor influence the slant that is given? This is a more speculative question, but an important one. For example, there's a talk on the impact of climate change on butterflies entitled "Climate Change: Winners and Losers". It doesn't sound that bad when you put it like that, does it?
One of the talks highlighted on the Earth Zone page is "Antarctica – from greenhouse to icehouse. The world’s icebound continent wasn’t always white and deserted – and once even sustained forests." Is it over-critical to suggest that the choice to feature this (very valid scientific research) fits rather nicely with the "Hey, don't worry about it, the climate has always changed" narrative? To be fair, the talk on climate tipping points looks pretty upfront about climate risks.
Shell has been accused before of trying to influence content and activities as a sponsor of the Science Museum (a range of evidence has also been unearthed by the Art Not Oil coalition of how BP uses its position as an arts sponsor to influence curatorial decisions). But in fact, there doesn't need to be explicit pressure. If the New Scientist event organisers wish the relationship with Shell to continue, there is a risk of self-censorship about uncomfortable facts. And this is another reason why the conflict of interest in Shell sponsorship is entirely inappropriate.
Stop the Trans Adriatic Pipeline: Sign the Open Letter
Tell the European Commission and European public banks to pull support from the TAP, which would wreck the EU's climate targets. Sign here
What it is
The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is a gas pipeline that is scheduled to be built as part of a larger chain called the Southern Gas Corridor. The pipeline aims to connect gas fields in the Caspian Sea and the Middle East to Europe, under an initiative to reduce dependence on Russian gas. The Corridor itself also consists of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline through Turkey and the South Caucasus Pipeline extension through Azerbaijan and Georgia. Scheduled for operation from 2020, these pipelines would pump 10 billion cubic metres of gas from Azerbaijan to Europe, and 6 billion cubic metres of gas to Turkey, every year. This pipeline would destroy Europe’s climate targets, increase energy dependence on oppressive political regimes, divert billions in funding away from democratic renewable energy solutions and have unacceptable impacts on the communities in its path.
Climate implications alone mean the TAP must not go ahead. Plans for the pipeline were drawn up before the Paris Agreement was signed. Instead of rapidly reducing emissions as the Paris Agreement demands, TAP would lock Europe into fossil fuels for decades. Existing fossil fuel operations already exceed the carbon budget left to avoid irreversible changes to our climate, so there is no justification for new fossil fuel infrastructure, especially on the scale of the Southern Gas Corridor.
The European Commission admits it hasn’t made an assessment of the climate impacts of the pipeline; the European Commission’s support for the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and other sections of the Southern Gas Corridor should thus be immediately frozen until proper assessments are taken. They must honour the Paris Agreement's climate promises by taking action.
Not only are the environmental implications of the pipeline against the terms of the Paris Agreement, but it comes in spite of reduced demand for gas in Europe. Between 2010 and 2015, gas demand in the European Union has decreased more than 20%; however, gas projects are evaluated with a more than 70% higher gas demand scenario in 2030. The EU has an overall surplus of gas import infrastructure and many of import capacities are underutilised, and the EU goals for energy efficiency would reduce gas demand in the next years.
The pipeline also has an immediate human cost, both in Azerbaijan and in Italy, as well as in the countries it passes through such as Albania and Greece. It faces local opposition in Italy due to the destruction construction is causing to the cultural history and environment, while the EU will be funding an oppressive regime in Azerbaijan that has a history of human rights violations and is repressing free speech.
This pipeline cannot be built without financial backing, and there is a call for taxpayer-funded banks who are considering investing in it - the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) - not to get involved. The EIB and EBRD are partners of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, set up to promote transparency and good governance in oil, gas and mining industries. In March, Azerbaijan quit this transparency initiative after being suspended due to concerns about civil society freedoms and human rights - showing why it would be inappropriate for them to fund the TAP.
TAP would also have unjust impacts on the many communities it would pass through. In Melendugno, the ending point of the pipeline in Italy, the local ‘No TAP Committee’ is clear that this is an undemocratic project that is imposed by the national government, and that it will cause vast economic and irreparable environmental damage to the local area. Concerns about impacts on tourism, water quality and people’s livelihoods in the olive-farming industry are high priority for them and so when works began to uproot hundreds of ancient olive trees to make way for the pipeline, a popular movement of thousands of people organised daily non-violent actions to stop the operations, catching the attention of the Italian media. The sheer size of the protests managed to suspend works indefinitely. If construction continues, it’s fair to expect more of such actions and community resistance, as people defend their rights, livelihoods and local landscapes.
In Azerbaijan, all criticism of the government is silenced, with 87 political prisoners currently held by the Azerbaijani government, as well as a number of high-profile human rights defenders arrested in the run up to the 2015 European Games. Corruption and abuse of power are rife within the leadership of the country, and any exposure of or opposition to it is liable to get one arrested and imprisoned under false charges. The cases of Khadija Ismayilova and Intigam Aliyev are highlighted in this report.
Despite the numerous human rights violations by the Azerbaijani regime, the EU continues to maintain relations with them, and as the human rights crisis gets worse, funding the regime through the TAP will not improve the Azerbaijanis' situation.
More information can be found in this report by Counter Balance, Platform, and Re:Common, and there is a petition here for the European Commission to withdraw support for the TAP.
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