Paris - Europe is set to spend more than 100 billion euros on "unnecessary" natural gas infrastructure, boosting its import capacity by a third and imperilling the continent's climate goals, according to new analysis.
In the first survey of its kind, the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) think tank looked at proposed natural gas infrastructure projects -- including power plants, import terminals and pipelines -- throughout the European Union and Britain.
It found that planned projects and those under construction would add 223 billion cubic metres annually to the EU's import capacity.
But the bloc already has import capacity nearly twice as high as its gas consumption, the study said Tuesday.
Three projects that will bring natural gas to Europe (slideshow)
Given that infrastructure such as pipelines have a shelf-life of decades, GEM warned of a substantial risk of stranded assets as the EU undergoes its transition away from fossil fuels.
"The UK and European economies are setting themselves up for losses running into the tens of billions by betting on unnecessary new gas infrastructure projects which are incompatible with Europe's climate goals," said GEM executive director Ted Nace.
European governments, with the exception of hold-out Poland, agreed last year to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.
The EU Commission estimates that for the bloc to hit its climate and energy target for 2030, fossil gas use will need to fall by 29 percent by then.
Greenhouse gas emissions by European countries (1960-2017)
- Excessive amounts of methane -
Yet companies and governments are throwing billions behind projects that will drastically increase Europe's gas capacity, with more than 50 billion euros earmarked for new pipelines alone.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said last year that natural gas was driving around half of global energy demand increases.
While less polluting than other fossil fuels, notably coal, natural gas extraction and transport produces excessive amounts of methane -- a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide.
GEM said that spending on planned gas infrastructure would average 12 billion euros annually this decade -- around 50 percent higher than the total fossil fuel investment in the IEA's "Sustainable Development Scenario".
Climate change scenarios
GEM added it would amount to 117 billion euros.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that for the best chance to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, natural gas consumption would fall a quarter by 2030 and three-quarters by mid-century.
An EU Commission spokeswoman told AFP that the bloc's net-zero transition "will be based on a broad range of energy sources and technologies".
She said that natural gas infrastructure built today could eventually accommodate lower-carbon fuels such as hydrogen and biogas.
- 'Billions in overinvestment' -
The European Investment Bank (EIB) recently announced it was withdrawing from almost all fossil-fuel lending by the end of 2021, including natural gas projects.
"From both a policy and from a banking perspective, it makes no sense for us to continue to invest in 20-25 year assets that are going to be taken over by new technologies and do not deliver on the EU's very ambitious climate and energy targets," said the EIB's vice-president for energy Andrew McDowell.
EU lawmakers are set to vote next week on energy infrastructure projects to receive direct public funding and EIB loans. On the list are 32 fossil gas projects.
A recent study by Artelys consultancy group said that most of these projects were "unnecessary from a security of supply point of view" and posed a risk of "overinvestment in tens of billions of euros" of taxpayers' money.
Charts showing energy demand per fuel
"While talking about the climate emergency, the EU and national governments are still using taxpayers' money to shackle Europe to decades more fossil fuel use," Colin Roche, from Friends of the Earth Europe, told AFP.
"Gas is not a transition fuel -– the climate emergency means we must end the fossil fuel age fast."
By Patrick Galey