Wednesday, 07 July 2021 12:09

Austrian Federal Minister: Fossil gas will have no place in a future energy system

Caspian Energy (CE): Madam Minister, is Austria interested in increasing the capacity of the existing gas pipeline system, and in acquiring gas from new sources such as the Southern Gas Corridor?

 Leonore Gewessler, Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology of Austria: Burning fossil fuel is the main driver for the on-going climate crisis. Austria aims to be climate neutral by 2040. Therefore, our political task is to phase-out fossil gas with its CO2 and methane emissions. Fossil gas will have no place in a future energy system based on renewables. Hence we have agreed in the Austrian government program to put into law a stop on extending the gas transmission grid in Austria.

CE: Is there a need for new gas hubs in the EU due to the supply of LNG to new European terminals and the growth of pipeline supplies?

Leonore Gewessler: We are on a pathway to decarbonize our energy system. Oil and gas companies throughout the world need to start developing business models no longer based on fossil fuels, as otherwise they risk losing their business in three decades at the latest. More and more governments, customers and investors call on the industry to step up efforts to fight climate change and avoid investments today, which will be stranded assets tomorrow. I fully respect every country’s right to choose their own energy mix, but I am deeply convinced that going renewable now is the only winning strategy in our fight against runaway climate change.

CE: Madam Minister, what is Austria’s position on climate change? How adequate, in your opinion, are the actions of the international community in relation to this problem today?

Leonore Gewessler: Climate change is the biggest challenge of our times. 2020, once again, was the warmest year on record in Europe. We, therefore, need to urgently act and deliver on the commitments made in the Paris agreement and in the European climate law enshrining at least minus 55% emissions reduction in 2030 into the European legal base. We are therefore looking forward to an ambitious „Fit for 55“ package by the European Commission. At home, Austria aims to be climate neutral by 2040 and we are currently working on our own climate law. Our new renewable energy act builds the foundation for 100% renewables in the electricity system by 2030. Austria has decided to phase out fossil oil heating systems by 2035 and fossil gas in the heating system for buildings by 2040. At the same time, we invest heavily, also within the RRF framework in making this transition a just one. We are expanding our train system, including night trains, and accelerate the shift to e-mobility in cars. Personally, I am very much encouraged by the recent initiatives by U.S. president Joe Biden, who not only joined the Paris Agreement again, but delivered a credible message for more and serious climate protection measures. Climate action is what we need - to ensure our children will still be able to live a good life on this planet.

CE: Do you think the melting of glaciers in the Arctic is caused by human activity?

Leonore Gewessler: The scientific evidence is clear and the cause for this manmade climate crisis is the massive use of fossil fuels. Recent studies show that the world’s - and Austria’s - glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate and they have lost almost 270 billion tons of ice a year over the opening two decades of the 21st Century. The consequences are huge and the damages and costs of our climate changing are enormous. We need to do everything we can to avoid irreversible tipping points in our climate system.

 CE: How does the climate warming and melting of glaciers affect the economy and energy sector today? Is it possible to use the latest mill-type mini-hydroelectric power stations to generate environmentally friendly released multi-ton hydroelectric power?

Leonore Gewessler: Around 28 percent of the energy generated in Austria came from hydropower in 2019. This corresponded to a total of around 145,639 terajoules. In terms of electricity generation, hydropower plants were responsible for around 60 percent of domestic generation in 2019. What is important to me is that also hydropower is produced sustainably and the quality of rivers is protected. It is possible to combine high environmental standards in hydropower and produce electricity - but you need to set clear standards to do it to not run into the trap of pitching the biodiversity against the climate crisis.

CE: As is known, there is a project to export solar energy from the solar zone of the Sahel region countries to the EU. Is it possible to do the same thing by redirecting the flows of crystal clear Arctic water through water supply systems to this arid region of savannas and semideserts? Does EU consider these two projects today?

Leonore Gewessler: We do not think that gigantic projects like these are the best way forward. We believe that small scale decentralized renewable systems are the most resilient and economically durable solutions. For example, we want 1 million roofs covered with solar panels. We have today the technology to cover all our energy needs by renewables sources, while creating jobs and economic value locally. The power of the sun, the earth, rivers and wind are sufficient. In addition, in a smart energy system they are combined to provide secure and sustainable energy to all.

 

Thank you for the interview

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