Europe’s Green Deal is supposed to revolutionize energy and agriculture. Now, the continent can’t afford it.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has shaken every political consensus in Europe. Within weeks, Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal with Moscow was cancelled, and the principle of not sending weapons to war zones went out the window. Just three years ago, French President Emmanuel Macron called NATO “braindead.” Now, nobody in Europe is echoing this view. The same will happen with the European Green Deal, the mothership of Europe’s environmental ambitions.
The Green Deal encompasses all the regulatory measures the E.U. envisages to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. It has been spearheaded by France and Germany, the latter already having started its energy transition (Energiewende) in 2011. Since Berlin’s radical decision to phase out nuclear power, Germany has experienced the highest electricity prices in the developed world, reduced competitiveness, and higher carbon-dioxide emissions as a result of increased reliance on coal and natural gas—from Russia. Now that Moscow has plunged European diplomacy into chaos, its hand hovering over the gas lever, Germany is scrambling to find alternatives.
Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck—incidentally a Green Party official—did not rule out a delay to the phase-out of coal power and a halt to the phase-out of the three remaining nuclear power plants in Germany. Frans Timmermans, E.U. Commissioner in charge of the Green Deal, has also accepted that coal will remain an energy source for longer than Brussels initially anticipated. What is so striking about the European conversation is that practically nobody is talking about wind mills or solar panels, but instead countries are attempting to import more LNG (liquified natural gas) from Canada and the United States, max out the natural gas pipeline from Azerbaijan, or (in the case of the U.K.) argue to put a halt to bans on fracking.
Meanwhile, Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio has travelled to Algeria and Qatar to help ramp up alternative natural gas imports to the one Rome currently gets from Russia. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had said in a recent statement that he regretted the choices that were made in the past, as Italy is one of the countries most dependent on Russian gas imports. Algeria, which currently supplies 11 percent of Europe’s gas needs (a third of which goes to Italy), has said that it’s ready to increase output by 30 percent in the short term. Tunisia and Libya in Northern Africa are also strategic partners for Europe to ramp up natural gas imports, as are Nigeria, Egypt, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ghana for LNG shipments. LNG terminals in Europe were running at 45 percent capacity last year, with most of the infrastructure in Europe located in Spain. Europe would need significant investment, which will take time, to even get close to what it needs to substitute Russian natural gas.
Europe also faces considerable challenges in agriculture. The European Commission’s “Farm to Fork” strategy seeks to reduce pesticides by 50 percent, devote 25 percent of agricultural land use to organic farming, and reduce fertilizers by 20 percent. Farming representatives have heavily criticized these plans, as they would tighten food supplies and increase dependence on imports. With sanctions on Russia severely disrupting the international food trade in fertilizers, can Europe afford plans to reduce agricultural output? Banking on organic food, which is notoriously under-productive, is unlikely to guarantee European food security. On Tuesday, that recognition came from the European Parliament’s leading parliamentary group, the center-right European People’s Party, calling for a moratorium on green agriculture policies.
A USDA study on the “Farm to Fork” plans found that the targets will lead to a reduction in productivity for wheat and oilseeds, as well as a reduction in E.U. exports. The strategy would also lead to a decline in agricultural production in Europe between 7-12 percent. Meanwhile, the E.U.’s decline in GDP would represent 76 percent of the decline in the worldwide GDP. Adding to that, the situation of food security and food commodity prices deteriorates significantly under a worldwide adoption scenario, as USDA researchers have found. The outlook of agricultural prices soars between 20 and 53 percent due to the package. The legislation should entice none of the lawmakers in Brussels—and it appears that now it could be killed altogether.
Europe’s green ambitions have met the harsh realities of geopolitics and the feasibilities of their environmentalist ideologies. Had it listened to partners on the heavy reliance on Russian gas, Europe could have prepared by reading the IPCC report and banking on nuclear power as part of the energy mix by allowing for modern agricultural practices to take root. This should serve as a wake-up call for those in the United States, who for years have applauded the European decarbonization and agricultural policy model as an example to follow for Washington.
Originally published here