As European countries try to wean themselves from Russian natural gas, the expansion of the pipeline linking Azerbaijan with several EU member and applicant states will be vital to a strategy that sees gas playing an important role in the transition to net zero carbon emissions, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.
Even though it will take several years, there’s a palpable sense of urgency surrounding the twin task of reducing European dependence on Russian gas and moving completely away from coal, the most polluting of the fossil fuels.
After a meeting of the leaders of Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal in Rome, the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, said that they had agreed to push the European Commission to take “incisive measures” on energy. He was able to say that Italy could weather a complete short term breakdown in gas supplies from Russia, thanks to the completion at the end of 2020 of the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline, which extends across Greece, Albania and Italy the supply of gas from Azerbaijan via Georgia and Turkey.
Spain is also promoting with an Italian energy infrastructure firm the construction of a new offshore gas pipeline that would extend the supply route to the Iberian peninsula. The Trans-Adriatic operating company says capacity can be doubled from 10 billion to 20 billion cubic metres of gas a year. The capacity of the pipeline across Turkey, itself a major consumer of Azeri gas, will be nearly doubled in the next four to five years, from 16 billion to 31 billion cubic metres.
A much delayed improvement to the gas connection between Greece and Bulgaria is now being addressed as well. At a conference in Baku, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, described Azeri gas as “a very precious part of our energy mix”. He said it was also important to extend supplies to the EU candidate countries in the western Balkans, in order to end their use of coal and reduce their emissions by 55%.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, spoke diplomatically of “a delicate moment in terms of the security of our gas supply”. She noted that Azerbaijan had “stepped up and supported” the EU and was a “reliable and trusted” partner.
As well as massive oil and gas reserves, Azerbaijan has a growing renewable energy sector. President Ilham Aliger has said that his country understands the responsibility that comes with such huge natural resources. He looked forward to “multiple positive results” from a closer relationship with the European Union.
“The energy policy we have goes beyond the issues of energy diversification and energy security because it creates new links between the countries”, he said. “It helps to increase the level of mutual trust”.