The European Union (EU) council that is responsible for setting energy policy, held a discussion on June 13 in Luxembourg to address energy diversity and security. The Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (TTE) discussed energy security and diversity, the international and geopolitical relationships that affect energy supply and the 2030 climate and energy framework.
For the European Union, tensions between Russia and Ukraine create a climate of energy insecurity. Between April and October 2009, the two eastern European countries could not agree on a price for natural gas. As a result, Russia blocked the flow of natural gas transit to Ukraine and thus, to Europe. The United States Energy Information Administration (USEIA) reported in 2013 that Russia supplied 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas. Over half of that, sixteen percent, came from Russia through Ukraine. With tensions high between Russia and Ukraine, the EU is aware that a marked decrease in natural gas supply is imminent.
The European Union relies on other global suppliers, called external energy relations, to supply much of its energy needs. Finding alternative or even redundant energy supplies would create more energy security for the European Union. The TTE council hopes that by identifying and developing greater energy cooperation among neighboring Mediterranean nations, it may create both energy security and diversification. The Council refers to such relationships as multilateral energy frameworks and considers them to be a necessary way to mitigate the Geo-politics that currently threaten its stable supply of natural gas.
To diversify its energy supply, the European Union has invested heavily in the biofuel industry. The adoption of biofuel policy has two-headed marketing appeal as it both creates an alternative fuel and has the alleged benefit of reducing greenhouse gases, which was a primary selling point to the policy makers who set the course for the EU’s investment in biofuel energy.
The idea is that fuels derived from plants will be less environmentally detrimental than petroleum-based fossil fuels, but it is not as simple as it appears. To grow crops, land is required. To cultivate the scope of crops that would meet the energy demands of the European Union would require a lot of land. This reveals the seedy underbelly of the biofuel concept. It has been shown that biofuel cultivation can have significant and negative unintended environmental consequences. Clearing otherwise stable land, like grasslands or rainforests, in exchange for space to cultivate biofuel crops can create more greenhouse gases than are produced by the fossil fuels that the biofuel is meant to supersede. In environmental circles, this is called indirect land-use change, or ILUC. This consideration was a critical agenda item of the energy security discussion that was held at the European Union. The council spent considerable time reaching an agreement on new language to address ILUC concerns.
Discussion of indirect land-use change and its resulting greenhouse gases was not the only energy security agenda item held at the June 13 European Union energy summit. There were many others of similar gravitas. Appropriating land designated for other uses can affect food supply, private property rights and areas of cultural and historical significance. Private land ownership and imminent domain create obstacles to governmental land grabs, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Additionally, energy policies have the potential of conflicting with preexisting agriculture and climate control policies, a point the EU Presidency pointed out to the TTE Council. The contentious issue of using genetically modified crops as biofuel does not apply to this discussion as the European Union currently has a ban on all genetically modified crops.