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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

What happened to Europe’s climate commitments?


4 min read

Head and shoulders picture of Promise Nwogu sitting behind desk
Promise Nwogu

As countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark turn to coal in response to the energy crisis, it appears they are breaking their promises to abandon coal power generation and protect the environment. Promise Nwogu, a young professional in Nigeria’s energy sector, reflects on this hypocrisy.

Energy is the bedrock of economic development. Having a large source of energy means you can power homes, agriculture and other energy-intensive industries and spur economic activity in a country or region. However, energy use is still by far the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities worldwide and the issue of climate change and the irreversible effects it is having on the planet is making the energy transition an increasingly hot topic.  


In short, reducing energy use and converting to renewable sources means mankind might have a chance to avoid reaching a dangerous climate tipping point. This has led to both the energy trilemma concept and numerous climate commitments by countries, cities and companies. 


Glossary of key terms

Energy trilemma refers to finding a balance between energy security, energy equity/affordability, and the sustainability of energy generation. 
Energy security relates to a country’s ability to meet its current and future energy demand reliably, and be able to bounce back quickly from unexpected shocks to its system with minimum supply disruption. 
Energy equity evaluates a country’s ability to provide universal access to affordable, reliable and abundant energy for domestic and commercial use. 
Environmental sustainability deals with the transformation of a nation’s energy sector toward mitigating and preventing potential environmental harm and repercussions from climate change.



 The Paris Agreement and climate commitments 
As humanity faces its greatest existential threat, people across the globe are voting in favour of reducing carbon emissions in order to slash this chief driver of climate change. This has resulted in the majority of countries pledging to reduce their emissions and prevent further global warming.


These climate commitments were legally bound in the 2015 international Paris Agreement treaty. More than 196 parties signed the Agreement, aiming to ‘limit global warming to well below 2oC, preferably to 1.5oC, compared to pre-industrial levels’. Fundamental to achieving this is to peak GHG emissions as soon as possible and aim for climate neutrality by 2050.


Each signatory to the agreement submitted a nationally determined contribution (NDC) which communicates the actions that they will take to reduce their emissions. These NDCs focus on decarbonising the country’s energy systems. They are anchored on the gradual phasing out of high-carbon content fuels, namely coal, oil and gas, and developed countries are expected to lead the change with underdeveloped and developing countries to follow suit.


Europe’s lapse back to coal  
However, in reality, this does not appear to be happening. Various European Union (EU) members have made the decision to restart their coal plants in order to avoid the energy pressures resulting from Russia’s move to cut its gas supply to Europe and Europe’s REPowerEU plan.


But Europe’s shift to coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuel family, is a dangerous step backwards.


The decision to switch to coal-based production gives a false impression that there are no other options and will have huge impacts in terms of meeting climate commitments. It also has an important and detrimental effect on underdeveloped and developing countries who will see these actions as hypocrisy from Europe.


While African countries with half of their populations wallowing in energy poverty are advised not to use abundant fossil fuels to power their economies, European countries who had their industrial revolutions in the 19th Century are choosing to renege on their promises and revert back to coal on the slightest sign that they will go a few hours or days without power.


What happened to our climate commitments? 
These actions seem to confirm that energy security is of a higher importance to the West than saving the planet. The question is: How can we ensure energy security without compromising on climate commitments?


In the midst of a crucial decade for combatting climate change, our actions, especially relating to the energy transition, will determine whether we can avoid a climate catastrophe with enormous repercussions for generations to come.


I still think there is time to get it right before we hit the tipping point, but developed countries need to take the lead on this. Europe and the rest of the world must use all the resources at its disposal to find a solution to the current energy trilemma. 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.