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“Gas wars” in Europe

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Russia is ramping up natural gas exports to Europe. In 2018, Gazprom delivered a record 201.8 billion cubic meters of gas – 3.8 percent, or 7.4 billion cubic meters more than it did in 2017. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller disclosed these figures during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on March 12. Apparently worried by this hard fact, a number of EU countries and institutions, as well as Washington, are trying to economically pressure key buyers of Russian gas to stop doing business with Moscow and prevent the construction of the Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream gas pipelines.

Germany is a leading buyer of Russian gas in Europe and wants to buy even more. According to Alexei Miller, “Germany’s Russian gas consumption grew by 9.5 percent year-on-year, meaning that we supplied 58.5 billion cubic meters in 2018. This is more than the capacity of Nord Stream alone.”

“Without a doubt, it should be noted that the upward trend in demand for Russian gas continues; therefore, in the medium term we expect that the volume of gas supplies to the European market will grow even more. As of the end of 2018, the share of Russian pipeline gas in the European market stood at 36.7 percent,” Miller said.

Unnerved by this trend, Russia’s competitors in the European energy market have been taking their own, mainly propaganda, steps by putting a political spin on energy-related issues. 

During his March 12 keynote address to top executives of the world’s largest energy companies attending a CERAWeek industry conference in Houston, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged them to promote “American ideals” and the benefits of “free market.” 

Stating that countries, including Russia and Iran, had long used their oil and gas assets to trap weaker nations into subservient relationships, Mike Pompeo stressed that it was high time US energy companies demonstrated the benefits of the free market to the world. 

“We’re not just exporting American energy. We are exporting our commercial value system to friends and partners. The more we can export free enterprise, rule of law … and transparency the more successful the United States will be,” he urged.

China, viewed by the Trump administration as America’s main trade and economic rival, was not spared either with Mike Pompeo accusing Beijing of being engaged in energy projects in Africa and Asia to pursue its own interests. He added that unable to resist Beijing’s pressure, a number of countries expect American companies to come in, and urged power engineers working overseas to actively interact with US diplomats and seek support from his department.

The Trump administration’s open politicization of issues pertaining to cooperation in the energy market has not been lost even on domestic US media with the American business mouthpiece, The Wall Street Journal, writing that Mr. Pompeo’s speech at the CERAWeek conference reflects the government’s desire to “use [America’s] growing status as an oil and gas superpower to counter foreign rivals,” and impose the purchase of US natural gas on the country’s allies to the detriment of rival suppliers.

US pressure is most clearly evident in the case of the project to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is viewed by Washington as a direct competitor for the supply of its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe. Back in January, the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, warned that Washington could slap sanctions on German companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 project. According to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, in letters sent, among other places, to the headquarters of Wintershall and Uniper companies, Mr. Grenell emphasized that “companies involved in Russian energy exports are taking part in something that could prompt a significant risk of sanctions.”

The US State Department then rushed to say that the ambassador’s words should not be perceived as a threat, but just as an expression of the “US position.” The German Foreign Ministry still made it clear that Ambassador Grenell’s actions are contrary to diplomatic practice. 

“European energy policy issues should be addressed in Europe, not in the US,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, with Wolfgang Büchele, chairman of the Eastern Committee of the German Economy, noting that the issue was “about our self-esteem and sovereignty.” 

Domestic policy considerations also factor in very clearly in the toughening of Washington’s position on energy with Robert Bosch Foundation expert Julianne Smith noting that the situation is exacerbated by the Democratic Party’s success in the November 2018 midterm elections to Congress. 

The German business newspaper Das Handelsblatt quoted Smith as saying that with his command of US domestic policy now limited, Donald Trump might engage much more actively in foreign policy, which, in turn, could have bad ramifications for Germany.

Despite the State Department’s assuaging explanations for Ambassador Grenell’s unprecedented statements, on March 12, The Wall Street Journal reported, referencing several Trump administration officials, that Washington is indeed willing to impose sanctions on investors and companies building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Although not inclined to overdramatize the impact the US policy could have on Russia’s economic projects, Moscow remains very clear-eyed on Washington’s actions. 

“We are well aware of the fact that we are dealing with attempts at unfair competition, and sometimes with actions comparable to racketeering and raiding, only at the international level,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, responding to Washington’s attempts to thwart the Nord Stream 2 project. He emphasized that the White House should better think about how to convince Europeans to buy US LNG, which is way more expensive than what they pay for Russian gas.

The White House has reportedly been stepping up attempts to hamper the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by trying to coordinate its efforts with the most anti-Russian forces in the European Union. Acting in synch with Mike Pompeo’s speech in Houston and the information published by The Wall Street Journal, a majority of European Parliament deputies voted on March 12 to toughen the EU’s energy policy vis-à-vis Russia in a resolution approved by 402 MEPs with 163 votes against.

The document, drawn up on the basis of a report prepared by the Latvian MP from the European People’s Party, Sandra Kalniete, and earlier approved by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, calls on European countries to halt the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and to abandon other major cooperation projects with Russia.

“We are drawing attention to the fact that the European Parliament today adopted a recommendatory political resolution on the state of relations between the EU and Russia. It includes more than 50 points pertaining to various aspects of this relationship, of which Nord Stream 2 is one,” Nord Stream 2 AG, the operator company of the Nord Stream-2 project, commented on the resolution.

“Irrespective of the political declarations, the implementation of Nord Stream 2 is governed by a binding legal framework that has also been shaped by the European Parliament. The legal framework consists of EU law, international conventions, and the national legislations of the countries along the planned route.”

Nord Stream 2 AG also took time to reiterate that all construction work for the project is governed by valid permits from the competent authorities from all the EU countries along the route of the pipeline.

It added that the non-binding political resolution on the state of EU-Russia relations by the European Parliament does not change the legal framework governing the implementation of the pipeline.

Still, in order to guard against any undesirable developments, Nord Stream 2 AG decided to take pre-emptive action. According to The Financial Times, the company is exploring plans to hive off the pipeline’s final 50 km German leg into a separate firm, while the rest of the pipeline (about 1,200 kilometers) will remain outside the EU’s jurisdiction. The newspaper believes that this “would substantially undermine expectations raised by an EU decision last month that the project would be subject to the bloc’s energy rules.”

Meanwhile, many in Europe itself are very skeptical about increasing purchases of US liquefied natural gas at the expense of pipeline gas imports from Russia. According to the latest European Commission calculus, by 2023, the EU countries will be getting 8 billion cubic meters of US LNG, which is 2.4 times the present amount. Even then this would still cover a mere 1.6 percent or so of their gas consumption. Simultaneously, a fall in the EU’s domestic gas production will open an annual “niche” of between 30 billion and 40 billion cubic meters, most of which will be filled by Russian gas, both pipeline (Gazprom) and LNG (NOVATEK).

Faced with the growing demand for natural gas, the UK may resume attempts to develop domestic shale gas deposits, with IGas Company having announced the discovery of shale gas in the Bowland Shale formation in central Britain with an estimated capacity of 37 trillion cubic meters. However, all previous attempts to launch industrial-scale production of shale gas in Europe fell flat due to natural conditions being different from those in the US, legislative norms and public sentiment.

In view of the situation existing today, there is every reason to expect increased attempts by the United States and pro-US forces within the European Union to thwart the implementation of Russian energy projects by political means. However, much will depend on the changing demand for energy both in European countries and in Asia (primarily in China) where the bulk of US liquefied natural gas will inevitably go, leaving European terminals high and dry.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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Energy

“Oil for development” budget, challenges and opportunities

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Iran has recently announced that its next fiscal year’s budget is going to be set with less reliance on oil revenues.

Last week, Head of the Country’s Budget and Planning Organization (BPO) Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said “In the next year’s budget – it starts on March 19, 2020 – oil revenues will be only spent for development projects and acquisition of capital asset, and not even one rial is going to go to government expenditures and other areas.”

At first glance, the idea is very appealing and it seems if the government manages to pull it off, it will be a significant step for Iran in its movement toward an oil-independent economy. However, it seems that cutting oil revenues from the budget and allocating them only to a specific part of the country’s expenditures is not going to be an easy task.

Although, BPO has already suggested various substitute sources of revenue to replace those of oil, some experts believe that the offered alternatives are not practical in the short-term.

So, how successful will the government be in executing this plan? What are the challenges in the way of this program? What are the chances for it to become fully practical next year?

To answer such questions and to have a clearer idea of the notion, let’s take a more detailed look into this [so called] ambitious program. 

The history of “oil for development”

It is not the first time that such a program is being offered in Iran. Removing oil revenues from the budget and allocating it to development projects goes way back in Iran’s modern history.

In 1927, the Iranian government at the time, decided to go through with a plan for removing oil revenues from the budget, so a bill was approved based on which oil incomes were merely allocated to the country’s development projects.

This law was executed until the year 1939 in which the plan was once again overruled due to what was claimed to be “financial difficulties”.

Since then up until recently, Iran has been heavily reliant on its oil revenues for managing the country’s expenses. However, in the past few years, and in the face of the U.S. sanctions, the issue of oil being used as a political weapon, made the Iranian authorities to, once again, think about reducing the country’s reliance on oil revenues.

In the past few years, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has repeatedly emphasized the need for reducing reliance on oil and has tasked the government to find ways to move toward an oil-independent economy.

Now that Iran has once again decided to try the “oil for development” plan, the question is, what can be changed in a program that was aborted 80 years ago to make it more compatible with the country’s current economic needs and conditions.

The substitute sources of income

Shortly after BPO announced its decision for cutting the oil revenues from the next year’s budget, the Head of the organization Mohammad-Baqer Nobakht listed three alternative sources of income to offset oil revenues in the budget planning.

According to the official, elimination of hidden energy subsidies, using government assets to generate revenue and increasing tax incomes would be the main sources of revenues to compensate for the cut oil incomes.

In theory, the mentioned replacements for oil revenues, not only can generate a significant amount of income, but they could, in fact, be huge contributors to the stability of the country’s economy in the long run. 

For instance, considering the energy subsidies, it is obvious that allocating huge amounts of energy and fuel subsidies is not a good strategy to follow.

In 2018, Iran ranked first among the world’s top countries in terms of the number of subsidies which is allocated to energy consumption with $69 billion of subsidies allocated for various types of energy consumption including oil, natural gas, and electricity.

Based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the total amount of allocated subsidies in Iran equals 15 percent of the country’s total GDP.

The budget that is allocated for subsidies every year could be spent in a variety of more purposeful, more fruitful areas. The country’s industry should compete in order to grow, people must learn to use more wisely and to protect the environment.

However, practically speaking, all the above-mentioned alternatives are in fact long term programs that take time to become fully operational. A huge step like eliminating hidden subsidiaries cannot be taken over a one or event two-year period.

The development aspect

One big aspect of the government’s current decision is the “development” part of the equation.

A big chunk of the country’s revenues is going to be spent on this part and so the government is obliged to make sure to choose such “development” projects very wisely.

Deciding to allocate a huge part of the country’s income on a specific sector, makes it more prone to corruption, and therefore, a plan which is aimed to help the country’s economy could become a deteriorating factor in itself if not wisely executed.

The question here is, “Is the government going to spend oil money on all the projects which are labeled as ‘development’ even if they lack the technical, economic and environmental justification?”

So, the government needs to screen development projects meticulously and eliminate the less vital ones and then plan according to the remaining truly-important projects.

Final thoughts

Even if the “oil-free” budget is a notion that seems a little ambitious at the moment, and even if there are great challenges in the way of its realization, but the decision itself is a huge step toward a better future for Iran’s economy. Although realizing this plan seems fairly impossible in the short-term, it surely can be realized with proper planning and consideration in the long term.

Sooner or later Iran has to cut off the ties of reliance on oil incomes and start moving toward a vibrant, dynamic and oil-free economy; a journey of which the first step has been already taken.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Growing preference for SUVs challenges emissions reductions in passenger car market

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Authors: Laura Cozzi and Apostolos Petropoulos*

With major automakers announcing new electric car models at a regular pace, there has been growing interest in recent years about the impact of electric vehicles on the overall car market, as well as global oil demand, carbon emissions, and air pollution.

Carmakers plan more than 350 electric models by 2025, mostly small-to-medium variants. Plans from the top 20 car manufacturers suggest a tenfold increase in annual electric car sales, to 20 million vehicles a year by 2030, from 2 million in 2018. Starting from a low base, less than 0.5% of the total car stock, this growth in electric vehicles means that nearly 7% of the car fleet will be electric by 2030.

Meanwhile, the conventional car market has been showing signs of fatigue, with sales declining in 2018 and 2019, due to slowing economies. Global sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars fell by around 2% to under 87 million in 2018, the first drop since the 2008 recession. Data for 2019 points to a continuation of this trend, led by China, where sales in the first half of the year fell nearly 14%, and India where they declined by 10%.

These trends have created a narrative of an imminent peak in passenger car oil demand, and related CO2 emissions, and the beginning of the end for the “ICE age.” As passenger cars consume nearly one-quarter of global oil demand today, does this signal the approaching erosion of a pillar of global oil consumption?

A more silent structural change may put this conclusion into question: consumers are buying ever larger and less fuel-efficient cars, known as Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs).

This dramatic shift towards bigger and heavier cars has led to a doubling of the share of SUVs over the last decade. As a result, there are now over 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010, accounting for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, compared with less than 20% a decade ago.

This trend is universal. Today, almost half of all cars sold in the United States and one-third of the cars sold in Europe are SUVs. In China, SUVs are considered symbols of wealth and status. In India, sales are currently lower, but consumer preferences are changing as more and more people can afford SUVs. Similarly, in Africa, the rapid pace of urbanisation and economic development means that demand for premium and luxury vehicles is relatively strong.

The impact of its rise on global emissions is nothing short of surprising. The global fleet of SUVs has seen its emissions growing by nearly 0.55 Gt CO2 during the last decade to roughly 0.7 Gt CO2. As a consequence, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry (including iron & steel, cement, aluminium), as well as trucks and aviation.

On average, SUVs consume about a quarter more energy than medium-size cars. As a result, global fuel economy worsened caused in part by the rising SUV demand since the beginning of the decade, even though efficiency improvements in smaller cars saved over 2 million barrels a day, and electric cars displaced less than 100,000 barrels a day.

In fact, SUVs were responsible for all of the 3.3 million barrels a day growth in oil demand from passenger cars between 2010 and 2018, while oil use from other type of cars (excluding SUVs) declined slightly. If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.

The upcoming World Energy Outlook will focus on this under-appreciated area in the energy debate today, and examines the possible evolution of the global car market, electrification trends, and consumer preferences and provides insights for policy makers.

While discussions today see significant focus on electric vehicles and fuel economy improvements, the analysis highlights the role of the average size of car fleet. Bigger and heavier cars, like SUVs, are harder to electrify and growth in their rising demand may slow down the development of clean and efficient car fleets. The development of SUV sales given its substantial role in oil demand and CO2 emissions would affect the outlook for passenger cars and the evolution of future oil demand and carbon emissions.

*Apostolos Petropoulos, Energy Modeler.

This commentary is derived from analysis that will be published on 13 November 2019 in the forthcoming World Energy Outlook 2019. IEA

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A Century of Russia’s Weaponization of Energy

Todd Royal

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In 1985 a joint meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev conveyed this enduring sentiment during the height of the Cold War, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” This sentiment began moving both countries, and the world away from Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.); and soon thereafter the Cold War ended. With the rise of Vladimir Putin, and the return of the Russian strongman based on the Stalin-model of leadership, Russia now uses and wields Russian energy assets, as geopolitical pawns (Syrian and Crimean invasions) the way they once terrorized the world with their nuclear arsenal.

Russia will remain a global force – even with an economy over reliant on energy – and Putin being the political force that controls the country. What makes the Russian weaponization of energy a force multiplier is “its vast geography, permanent membership in the UN Security Council, rebuilt military, and immense nuclear forces,” while having the ability to disrupt global prosperity, and sway political ideologies in the United States, Europe, Middle East, Asia, and the entire Artic Circle.

Putin understands that whoever controls energy controls the world – mainly fossil fuels – oil, petroleum, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy to electricity is now added to this dominating mix. Now that Stalin has taken on mythological status under Putin’s tutelage, Joseph Stalin once said“The war (WWII) was decided by engines and octane.”Winston Churchill agreed with Stalin on the critical importance of fuel: “Above all, petrol governed every movement.”

The most devastating war in human history, and one that killed millions of Russians continues driving Putin’s choice to make energy the focal point of their economy, military, and forward-projecting foreign policy. This began the modern, energy-industrial complex that mechanized and industrialized energy as a war-making tool that still affects people-groups, countries, and entire regions of the world.

Russia, then the U.S.S.R. (former Soviet Union), and now current Russia have always thought of energy as a way for their government to dominate their countrymen, traditional spheres of influence (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Central Asia), and a strategic buffer zone against land-based attacks that came from Napoleon and Hitler’s armies that still haunts the Russian psyche.

The timeline of Russia from the 1917, violence-fueled Russian Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power, the rise and death of Stalin in 1953, World War II in-between, the Cold War that began March 5, 1946 in Winston Churchill’s famous speech declaring “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent,” has been powered by energy.

This kicked off the Cold War until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During this epoch in history the Soviets promoted global revolution using their economy and military that ran on fossil fuels and nuclear weaponry. In 1999 Vladimir Putin becomes Prime Minister after Boris Yeltsin resigns office, and the rebirth of the Soviet Union, and weaponization of energy continues until today under Putin’s regime.

What Russia now promotes foremost over all objectives: “undermining the U.S.-led liberal international order and the cohesion of the West.”Russia’s principal adversaries in this geopolitical tug-of-war over energy and influence are the U.S., the European Union (EU), and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). All of these variables are meant to bolster Russia and Putin’s “commercial, military, and energy interests.”

This geopolitical struggle doesn’t take place without abundant, reliable, affordable, scalable, and flexible oil, and natural gas. This is likely why Russia has begun a massive coal exploration and production (E&P) program that has grown exponentially since 2017 according to Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service.

The entire Russian economy is now based on rewarding Putin’s oligarchical cronies, and ensuring Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom can fill the Kremlin’s coffers to annex Crimea and gain a strategic foothold in the Middle East via the Syrian invasion. This economic system is now referred to as “Putinomics.” Using energy resources to fund global chaos, and wars while rewarding his favorite oligarchs and agencies that do the Kremlin’s bidding.

Russia is now in a full-fledged battle with western powers, and its affiliated allies over the fossil fuel industry. While the rest of the world is attempting to incorporate renewable energy to electricity onto its electrical grids, and pouring government monies into building momentum for a carbon-free society, Russia is going the opposite direction.

Moscow’s energy intentions are clear, and have been for over one hundred years. Currently, there Syrian foothold has allowed them to entrench themselves back into the Middle East. This time they aren’t spreading revolutionary communism, instead it is Putin-driven oil and natural gas supplies through pipelines and E&P rights acquired in “Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.”

Russia has a clear pathway to block U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) into Europe, and a land bridge from the Middle East to Europe almost guarantees Russian natural gas is cheaper, more accessible, and maintains that Europe looks to Russia first for its energy needs. By cementing their role as the “primary gas supplier and expands its influence in the Middle East,” the U.S., EU, and NATO’s military dominance are overtaken by natural gas that Europe desperately needs to power their economies, and heat their homes in brutal, winter months.

To counter Russian energy influence bordering on a monopoly over European energy needs, the current U.S. administration should make exporting natural gas into LNG a top “priority.” Work with European allies in Paris, Berlin, and NATO headquarters to operationally thwart Moscow’s “Middle East energy land bridge.” Global energy security is too important by allowing Russian influence to continue spreading.

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