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European Commission announcement signals important shift towards a green economy

by David Newman, President, World Biogas Association

Last week’s announcement by the European Commission that it will increase five-fold its proposed European Union fund to wean carbon-intensive regions off fossil fuels is to be celebrated.

Added to the EU Green Deal, the call by major international organisations (including the UN) for a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the “Build Back Better” campaign led by Boris Johnson as the UK prepares to host COP26, this brings a dose of comfort and optimism that some good will come out of the tragic events of 2020.

With the global economy having lost momentum and oil prices having fallen, world governments are now presented with a unique opportunity to rebuild on sound sustainability and low-carbon principles, in line with the need to also address the ongoing climate change emergency. Crucially, the worldwide lockdowns have demonstrated the environmental, health and social benefits of drastic reductions in air and car travel and of remote working, resulting in public opinion now clamouring for behaviour change and investment in green industries as a route out of the recession rather than “back to normal”. This is adding many, mainstream, voices to the demands of the climate change protesters of 2019. If anything, the 2020 crisis has demonstrated that what those protesters were asking for is not only reasonable, but also achievable.

By signalling to world governments that countries must move away from fossil fuels and support the growth of green technologies, the European Commission shows exemplary leadership. Solar and wind are now well established and in some countries cost-effectively meet as much as 70% of their electricity demand. Hydrogen is gaining traction as a transport fuel option. Another mature, readily available technology that is now receiving widespread support is biogas.

Unlike solar, wind and hydrogen, biogas produces more than just energy, and has the potential to reduce global greenhouse gases emissions by 12% by 2030 across multiple sectors. The anaerobic digestion (AD) process that produces biogas treats organic wastes that would otherwise emit harmful emissions in landfills or through incineration and transforms them into not only green gas for heat, power and transport, but also into a digestate that makes a renewable, carbon neutral fertilizer for soils available at low costs. As a result, AD positively impacts on the carbon footprint of the farming, waste management and food processing industries as well as energy (heat, power and transport). Most important of all, it creates hundreds of thousands of green jobs across all those sectors. Fully deployed, the biogas industry could open up 11 to 15 million job opportunities around the world – exactly what the economy needs to recover from the current recession.

This is why we have been urging policy makers to ensure they integrate biogas into their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and why we have issued a Biogas Industry and Climate Change Commitment Declaration, signed by major players in the biogas industry, in which we highlight the measures that need to be taken to unlock our sector’s huge potential. We presented this Declaration to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP25 in Madrid last December and have enjoyed collaborating with them for some time. Later this year, we will be publishing the Pathway to 2030 report in which we draw the roadmap towards delivering the 12% emissions reduction target.

As the Covid-19 pandemic recedes and focus shifts to the recovery plans from the economic recession that it has caused, we are increasingly optimistic that our efforts will have paid off by the time COP26 is held in Glasgow in November 2021, and that the transition away from fossil fuels will be further forward by then.

But we will not be complacent and will keep urging world governments to seize this unique opportunity to rebuild better for the planet and its inhabitants.



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