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SUMMARY

Comments come as EU members weigh up using coal as a stop-gap measure.

By Callum Cyrus

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has urged EU member states to resist turning to coal-fired energy sources, even as reduced gas volumes from Gazprom undermine their energy security, the Financial Times reported June 21

In line with climate neutrality objectives, Von der Leyen believes EU states must prioritise "massive" renewables investments. The comments come as Russia's Gazprom has cut gas flow to Europe in recent months, most recently to Italy, France and Germany, ostensibly due to reduced capacity at the Nord Stream pipeline. Germany, the Netherlands and Austria have responded by considering expanding coal-fired power generation to save gas.

Von der Leyen told the FT:"We have to make sure that we use this crisis to move forward and not to have a backsliding on the dirty fossil fuels. It is a fine line and it is not determined whether we are going to take the right turn."

The EU historically struggled to spur reduced coal usage in countries on its eastern flank, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, though the latter's government announced it would exit coal by 2033 at the start of this year. As of January 2021, some 25% of the EU's operational coal fleet was expected to be phased out by 2030 at the latest, as part of national climate change strategies implemented by individual member states. The crisis in Ukraine threatens to delay some of these targets.

Germany intends to replace some gas use in power generation with coal under an emergency plan unveiled on June 20, while Austria has reportedly ordered its state-owned power utility Verbund to revive the shuttered Mellach coal-fired power station. Austria closed its last coal-fired power plant in 2020, underscoring the risk that Gazprom's actions could seriously impact European efforts to head off climate change. 

The Dutch government is suspending a cap on coal-fired power generation to help stock up on gas before winter, and Italy might take similar action.