London — The EU Ombudsman -- which investigates complaints about poor administration by EU institutions -- has concluded that the sustainability of gas projects included on the European Commission's list of priority energy projects was "not sufficiently taken into account."
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The Ombudsman in February opened an investigation into the climate criteria used by the EC in drawing up the fourth Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list.
It followed a complaint by environmentalist group Food & Water Europe over the EC's alleged failure to carry out sustainability and climate assessments for gas projects included on PCI lists.
There is increasing pressure on the EC to stop support for additional fossil fuel infrastructure amid a backlash against the use of unabated fossil gas in the European energy mix.
The fourth PCI list includes high-profile planned gas projects including five LNG import terminals, five gas storage sites and significant pipeline projects such as the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), the TAP pipeline and the EastMed pipeline to link Israel and Cyprus to Greece.
PCI project developers were able to apply for funding from the Eur5.35 billion ($6.2 billion) Connecting Europe Facility, which runs until the end of 2020.
In its assessment published Nov. 19, the European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly said it was "regrettable" that the EC did not attempt to improve the available data and the analytical methodologies applied earlier so that a ranking of candidate gas PCIs based on their sustainability would have been possible.
However, the Ombudsman concluded that "no further inquiries are justified at this point" after the EC said over the course of its inquiry that it was working on improving the methodology for assessing the sustainability of candidate gas projects.
This, it said, was "with a view to taking into account the greenhouse gas (CO2 and methane) emissions of projects, as well as the potential efficiency impacts."
Food & Water Europe welcomed the Ombudsman's findings that the EC had failed to conduct adequate climate and sustainability assessments for gas projects on the PCI list.
It said the assessment confirmed the lack of "crucial climate assessments of highly subsidized fossil fuel projects" included on PCI lists.
"The Commission must walk the talk and truly deliver on real climate analysis in the next list," Andy Gheorghiu, policy advisor for Food & Water Europe, said.
Gheorghiu said that he regretted that the EC still planned to work with gas industry body ENTSOG on the next list.
"A more rigorous and independent sustainability test is necessary for future PCIs," he said.
The fifth PCI list is expected to be presented in Q4 2021.
In its assessment, the Ombudsman noted that the EU's objectives concerning climate change targets and sustainability have "gained in urgency with the increasing awareness of the accelerating climate crisis."
"The measures planned by the Commission should address the shortcomings in the sustainability assessment of candidate gas Projects of Common Interest," the Ombudsman said.
"In particular, this implies updating the sustainability criterion so that it takes into account greenhouse gas emissions and efficiency impacts, as well as the impact on the overall greenhouse gas intensity of energy production in EU member states and the emissions related to the functioning of the proposed infrastructure itself."
The updated criterion should be in place ahead of the assessment of candidate gas projects for the fifth PCI list, the Ombudsman said.
The EU has pledged to be net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the Ombudsman said the public expected this to be reflected in the "concrete policies and initiatives proposed by the Commission in the future."
"To this end, the projects that are included on future PCI lists should have sustainability to the fore and the evaluation of candidate gas projects should be criteria-based," it said.
"Improving how the sustainability of candidate gas projects is assessed would be an important step to this end."
Gas-related projects on fourth PCI list