Feature: Environmentalists warn of fossil fuel "setback" amid Russia-Ukraine conflict

(Xinhua) 16:19, May 08, 2022

  VALLETTA, May 7 (Xinhua) -- Astrid Vella, one of Malta's best-known environmental warriors, has been devoted to preserving heritage buildings and improving her country's natural environment. She is now worried about the "setback" caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict to Europe's green transition.

  "This is a setback, also for non-governmental environmental protection organizations," 61-year-old Vella, founder and coordinator of the Malta-based environmental protection organization "Together for a Better Environment," told Xinhua.

  "I prefer to think long term," she said. While Europe is seeking alternatives to fossil fuels to meet energy demand, Vella believed this setback would be just "temporary."

  She said she felt relieved that Malta had already weaned away from coal, unlike some European countries, which have increased the electricity-generating capacity of their coal-fired power plants. But she remained anxious about air pollution from busy roads.

  Though her environmental protection organization is small, Vella has devoted all her efforts to strengthening people's awareness of the need to protect the environment.

  "We should set up an organization to slow down and prevent the destruction of all the wonderful gems that we have," Vella said when mentioning the purpose of founding the organization in 2006.

  Today, the organization relies on several volunteers, and for Vella, it has evolved into a full-time job. She learned her commitment to environmental protection from her father, who insisted on the value of the environment first in his architecture career.

  In response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict that has sent energy prices rocketing and has threatened the livelihood of households across the continent, the European Union (EU) now aims to radically reduce its dependence on Russian coal, oil and natural gas. According to analysts, the series of sanctions against Russia spur energy supply shortage concerns and force people to foot the conflict's bill themselves.

  Vella said she felt for all those hit by the rapidly rising energy prices, something people in Europe have "rarely" experienced, if at all.

  As part of its sanctions against Russia, the EU is looking for new sources of liquefied natural gas (LNG) primarily in the United States but also elsewhere. As a logical next step, the countries of Europe now have to build new LNG import terminals. Meanwhile, certain countries plan to maintain coal import levels to be able to operate their coal-fired power plants at full capacity.

  However, analysts believed that the huge amounts of money that will have to be poured into the construction of new LNG carriers and terminals will only increase the sanctions' costs for Europe. They said that this will not decrease the countries' dependence on fossil fuels and will not be conducive to achieving the strategic goals of energy independence, green transition and sustainable economic development.

  The prospect of Europe's continued reliance on fossil fuels is also a major concern for other environmental protection groups in the region. Just Stop Oil, a coalition of environmental activists, has been organizing protests in Britain demanding an immediate halt to all new fossil fuel projects.

  In a statement, the organization said that the government is "making a choice to continue its addiction to fossil fuels," instead of accelerating the transition to a renewable-led future.

  Greenpeace has recently said in a statement that several EU governments have pledged to develop liquefied fossil gas capacity for imports from Qatar or the United States, which would "keep Europe dependent on this fossil fuel for decades."

  "Fossil fuels have a history of being connected with conflict and war -- wherever they came from, governments must phase them out as quickly as possible, not look for new suppliers," Greenpeace EU Director Jorgo Riss said.

  Greater efforts should be made to "cut dependence on fossil fuels and increase the capacity of alternative energy," Vella said. 

(Web editor: Xue Yanyan, Bianji)


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