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Accelerating towards a low-carbon future - a young professional's perspective on Europe’s energy future

30 August 2016

Europe’s energy future is, and will continue to be, about mitigating risk. Not only risk to the security of energy supply, or risk to competition and investment. But the larger (and potentially highly detrimental) risk of climate change. So what can we do, in fact WHAT SHOULD WE DO, to make sure that the Europe in 2030 does not resemble a Hollywood climate apocalypse film? Simply put, we need to look at clean alternatives and what is the best way to implement them.

In the aftermath of last year’s Paris climate agreement, the conversations about Europe’s energy future intensified. Yet, talk is cheap - signing a declaration to limit global warming “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels is not enough. It needs to be met with practical policies and a political attitude that encourages individuals, governments, industries, companies and cities to lower their emissions, while ensuring economic growth.

So where do we start in order to break the status quo and accelerate towards a low-carbon future? Well, a good starting point – one that includes a series of “easy wins” - can be identified in the types of fuels we use to power our homes, economies and cars. And it’s no secret that natural gas is a clean, low-emitting fuel that has diverse applications on its own, as well as a bridging component, a characteristic that other fuels lack. 

Every day, we use electricity to power our lifestyles and we also use some mode of transportation to get from point A to point B. Using an electric stove in Belgium is not the same as using one in Poland since the majority of electricity generated comes from nuclear, not coal – but it’s one illustration of many. The switch to natural gas in the right sectors and Member States will alleviate the amount of carbon and air pollution emitted.

As a sector that is responsible for one-third of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonising transport and increasing air quality is vital. This sector in particular would benefit from the use of LNG for maritime and heavy road transportation modes. The number of gas and electric vehicles is expected to increase as well.  But let’s not forget that an electric vehicle can be powered by electricity generated by coal!

The deadline to achieve Europe’s decarbonisation targets may appear far in the future (2030/2050), but the investment towards this transition needs to take place today.  Within the 2050 Energy Roadmap, it’s clear that coal is responsible for around 80% of CO2 emissions of the power sector and this needs to change. But if tackled, Europe can reap the benefits! As variable renewables (we see that in Brussels the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow) and smart grid technology expand, gas serves as a fuel anchor due to its flexibility and immediate availability.

Witnessing EU policymaking, there are some positive sparks, while other ideas need to be thought through. We need to be mindful that Europe is not isolated, and to make progress towards a low-carbon Europe also requires global momentum. Will this come from the US? Or even China maybe? Regardless of the uncertainty at international level, Europe can be at the forefront of policy creation to bring about tangible change. We need to do better, and we can do better for my generation and younger generations to come. 

By Paula IwaniukDirector of Communications & Marketing, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) - Brussels