Interview
12 Nov 2021, 13:04
Julian Wettengel

EU taxonomy must distinguish between fossil and green gas – German state minister

Photo shows natural gas pipeline in Brandenburg, Germany. Photo: CLEW/Wettengel.
Fossil gas and green gas should receive different treatment in the taxonomy, says state minister Albrecht. Photo: CLEW/Wettengel.

The upcoming rules in the European Union taxonomy for sustainable investments have to treat the supply of fossil gas different from the buildout of infrastructure that can also be used with green gases, said Jan Philipp Albrecht, Green Party member and minister for the energy transition in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. The taxonomy has to ensure that fossil gas is not a competitor on an equal footing with renewable energy sources, said Albrecht, a former member of the European Parliament. The guidelines for what can be seen as a sustainable investment, which the European Commission is set to present soon, are also playing a role in the ongoing talks with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the pro-business FDP to form Germany’s next national government, said Albrecht, who is part of the team of negotiators. Clean Energy Wire spoke with the minister on the sidelines of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow.

Minister Jan Philipp Albrecht. Photo: Frank Peter.

Clean Energy Wire: The role of fossil gas in the EU taxonomy seems to be a point of contention between the SPD and the Greens, looking at comments made at a panel discussion here at the climate change conference. While environment minister Svenja Schulze wants it to be included, you have rejected this. Is such a European policy decision a topic in the ongoing coalition negotiations in Berlin?

Jan Philipp Albrecht: When we enter a new federal government, we of course also have to look at the framework the European legislation provides, so it is part of the coalition talks. But I don’t believe we are so far apart: we must not let so much time go by and decisions at EU level go in the wrong direction. We have to ensure that when we talk about fossil gas, we do not have a situation where it’s labelled as sustainable, green energy and continued to be produced, because we have jointly decided to make renewables the standard and reduce fossil fuel subsidies as much as possible. This must not be counteracted at that EU level.

But the SPD seems to be in favour of labelling fossil gas as sustainable.

I did not understand it as meaning that the SPD is in favour of maintaining the taxonomy as it is currently foreseeable, but rather that we want to differentiate between the supply of fossil gas on the one hand – which we no longer want to promote – and on the other hand the promotion of gas infrastructure, which we will of course still need in the future, for example for renewable gases, for hydrogen. And drawing a clear dividing line here and making it clear that fossil gas is not a competitor on an equal footing with renewable energy sources is, I believe, a joint task that we want to undertake. 

The gas infrastructure must always be geared from the outset to hydrogen from green electricity and other renewable gases.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, energy transition minister in Schleswig-Holstein

In the preliminary agreement which formed the basis of the coalition negotiations, gas is highlighted as an important transition fuel. Was it difficult for the Green Party to accept that the paper calls for new gas power plants to be built?

No, we are in the process of replacing many coal-fired boilers with gas-fired power plants in Germany. This is also the right way to go at a time when we need to rapidly phase out coal-fired power generation in some places where it is not possible, for example, to cover a city's heating needs with renewable energy. It is important to always make sure that these fossil fuels can be replaced by renewable energy sources. The gas infrastructure must always be geared from the outset to hydrogen from green electricity and other renewable gases. We must agree that this is the common direction for the coming years.

And would you introduce an end date for the use of fossil gas? Making infrastructure hydrogen-ready does not say anything about when the switch will be made.

The moment for the switch is determined by the fact that we have clear emission reduction targets in all sectors. In the end, they will all go to zero step by step, but the path will look different in each sector.

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