‘All thunder and no lightning’: New campaign aims to speed up Europe’s fossil fuel exit

Meanwhile, the European Commission has launched a new, 100 million euros call for small-scale projects under its Innovation Fund, a programme for the deployment of innovative low-carbon technologies.  

More than 40 civil society organisations from across Europe have embarked on a mission to ensure governments, businesses, and financial institutions eliminate fossil fuels from the continent’s power sector by 2035, replacing them with renewable energy sources and energy savings.  

The Beyond Fossil Fuels (BFF) campaign, launched on March 28, expands the hugely successful Europe Beyond Coal coalition, which has seen 23 European countries committing to coal exits, 17 of which will happen by 2030 at the latest.  

Four of those 17 countries are in the emerging Europe region: North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, whose target date to exit coal of 2025 is one of the most ambitious in all of Europe. Five further countries in the region have set coal exit dates of between 2033 and 2040 (Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Czechia) while four have yet to commit to phasing out coal (Poland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo). 

The three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Albania already have no coal in their energy mix. 

According to the BFF, Europe can replace the amount of coal and fossil gas it historically imported from Russia in just four years, by making determined but achievable increases in the deployment of renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency measures and smart consumption.  

A report, Freedom From Fossil Fuels finds that 70 per cent of these fuels can be displaced through the rollout of solar, wind and heat pumps alone. This would entail, as a daily average, the solarisation of 20,000 homes and 30 parking lots; building seven solar farms and 14 wind turbines; and installing 19,500 heat pumps across the continent, enabling European countries to permanently replace all Russian coal and fossil gas, without resorting to imports from other countries or increasing domestic production. 

“Coal in Europe is in irreversible, terminal decline, and even its supposed winter comeback as a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was all thunder and no lightning,” says Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director at Beyond Fossil Fuels.  

“The panicked responses to the energy crisis remain proof that Europe is struggling as a consequence of its deep dependence on fossil gas and other dirty fuels. Transforming our businesses, cities, towns, and homes to efficiently run on cheap, clean, home-grown renewable energy is the only fair and plausible way to tackle the cost of living, peace, security, and climate change simultaneously. Every politician, business, financier and utility has a responsibility to make this vision a reality by 2035.” 

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, most European countries have resolved to end imports of Russian coal, gas, and oil. However, despite a European Union embargo on its Russian coal imports, and its fossil gas imports being substantially curtailed, European countries are still buying fossil gas from Russia in 2023, and many of the energy measures put in place in the last year have been short-term, unsustainable or emergency in nature. 

European governments have allocated an estimated 768 billion euros since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from surging energy costs, yet an estimated 35 million EU households were still unable to heat their homes last winter.  

Investing a comparable amount in solar, wind, and heat pumps would displace over two-thirds of the fossil fuels responsible for driving up energy costs, and replace them with around 29 million solar homes, 44,000 solar car parks, 9,500 solar farms, 20,500 onshore and offshore wind turbines, and 28.5 million heat pumps, says BFF. 

“Right now Europe has a golden opportunity to demonstrate it is capable of remaking a power system fit for its people and economy, and doing it while protecting our environment and climate,” adds said Cyrille Cormier, campaign strategist, and author of the BFF Freedom From Fossil Fuels analysis.  

“By focusing on a suite of renewable and energy savings solutions, in just a few years Europe can replace every joule of Russian fossil fuel it was relying on before the war. This will drive dramatic reductions to power bills, promote peace and energy security, and get us on track for necessary climate action and a completely fossil-free, renewable-based power system by 2035.” 

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More EU cash for innovation 

On March 30, the European Commission launched the third call for small-scale projects under its Innovation Fund, a programme for the deployment of innovative low-carbon technologies.  

Financed by revenues from the auctioning of emission allowances from the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the Commission believes it will further boost the deployment of industrial solutions to decarbonise Europe. 

The new call will make 100 million euros in grant funding available to small-scale projects with a capital expenditure between 2.5 and 7.5 million euros in the areas of renewable energy, decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries, energy storage, and carbon capture, use and storage.  

These technologies should be sufficiently mature and have strong potential to achieve significant greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to conventional technologies. 

“Innovation is a key part of our green transition,” says European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans. 

“There are many technologies under development that will help us reduce our emissions and drive jobs and growth in Europe. The Innovation Fund helps bring these technologies to market. The innovative small-scale projects that we are looking for today can revolutionise how entire industries operate tomorrow.” 

The call is open until September 19 for projects that are implemented in any EU member state. 

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