Reportatge originalment publicat a Blog Aarhus Universitet

Cristina Gironès & Kimberly Nicolaus

In two years, fossil gas will run through a pipeline from Norway to Poland via Denmark. Its construction hinders the green transition and harms the environment.

In the middle of the Lillebælt strait, ships start to build parts of the Baltic Pipe. The construction work stirs up sand from the seabed. With that, the blue water turns brown – in a nature area, protected by the EU. The digging takes place close to whales and seals but is far away from where the decision of building the pipeline was made initially: in the capital of Denmark.

In Copenhagen, the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy, and Utilities approved the Baltic Pipe project in 2019 and, in the same year, the Danish parliament agreed on a legally binding target to reduce Denmark’s CO2 emissions. The country’s goal is CO2 neutrality by 2050. Besides, the EU determined under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

“This pipeline will make it more difficult to comply with all the climate goals, for sure”

Jacob Sørensen, researcher on climate and energy

However, and in contradiction with these efforts, the Baltic Pipe is being built across the country and will transport fossil gas from Norway to Poland via Denmark starting in 2022, for, at least, the next 15 years. “This pipeline will make it more difficult to comply with all the climate goals, for sure”, says Jacob Sørensen, a researcher on climate and energy for NOAH, a Danish environmental organization.

For him, it’s clear that the EU and Denmark agreed on a way to a more climate-friendly energy production, but now, with building the pipeline, are running in the opposite direction. “As public institutions put money into fossil fuels, they don’t believe that renewable energy is necessary“, says Sørensen. He assumes that they don’t care about the green resources and that private investors and international companies don’t believe in the success of the EU to fulfill the climate goals.

On the other side, the EU labeled the Baltic Pipe as a strategic gas infrastructure project which will create not only a new gas supply corridor in the European market but also makes Poland less dependent on Russian gas. The argumentation of the Danish energy company Energinet and the Polish GAZ-SYSTEM S.A. building the pipeline is that Poland may decrease its CO2 emissions because it has the chance to shut down its coal plants when using the Baltic Pipe as an energy resource.

According to Jacob Sørensen, “it’s true that gas will reduce Poland’s CO2 emissions, but this holds only for a short term perspective“. Instead of making a transition to green resources, he sees the Baltic Pipe as a high risk of creating a dependence on fossil gas for a much longer time than is wanted or needed. “In the future, this pipeline will cause more pollution.”

Overall, this risk of increasing pollution in a decade and beyond also applies to Denmark. The Baltic Pipe is bi-directional, meaning the supply of fossil gas is also possible from Poland to Danish markets while creating a use for gas where there’s no need for. As Sørensen states, the Danish energy sector will function even without the new Baltic Pipe. That’s why “the construction of the Baltic Pipe is not in line with Denmark’s goal to reduce its CO2 emissions”, he concludes.

“In the future, this pipeline will cause more pollution”

Jacob Sørensen, researcher on climate and energy

Protest against the Baltic Pipe

Although the noise of the machines digging in the ground is not heard in Copenhagen, some activists gather together in the capital to raise awareness about the contradiction of the project, aiming on stopping the construction work. At Gammeltorv Square, a group of activists is shouting slogans against the Baltic Pipe. With a microphone, an activist is giving his words a renovated power, explaining the consequences of the pipeline for the country’s climate goals and its environment.

The grey sky, soon black, frames the determined voices of about fifty climate activists. Kathrine A. is one of them. The young woman is protesting within the campaign Baltic Pipe Nej Tak, an independent platform that brings together the different voices against the construction of the gas pipeline.

“Some politicians said it already, it’s not a secret that the Baltic Pipe is a geopolitical game. The EU wants to supply itself with energy rather than getting it from Russia”, says Katherine. According to her, this infrastructure is not going to benefit Denmark at any point, since gas is not a growing industry in the country. “Building a new pipeline means that we’re going to keep using fossil fuels. But we don’t have time for this, we need green sources“, she demands.

The climate goals are not the only cause of concern for Baltic Pipe Nej Tak. Activists are worried about the environmental consequences and impacts on the ecosystem as well. “In Lillebælt a lot of Marsvins -tiny dolphins- have been disturbed. The water is still brown instead of clean, as it used to be. Even though it’s a nature 2000 habitat, an EU protected nature area, they dug the Baltic Pipe right through it”, says Kathrine. “There are also forest areas being deforested, and farmer fields have been affected across the country.”

“The Baltic Pipe is a geopolitical game. The EU wants to supply itself with energy”

Katherine A., activist on climate justice

Underwater noise disturbs animals

For accepting the Baltic Pipe project, an environmental impact assessment was conducted. None of the potential impacts on the environment are considered as significant, except for the underwater noise. Nevertheless, and as the report explains, there are potential impacts, especially for individual marine mammals like harbour seals and grey seals in the area of the Baltic Pipe construction. Among others, temporary hearing loss, an altered behaviour which in turn has implications for their long-term survival and reproductive success.

Moreover, Marsvin dolphins, a protected species living in high density in the Lillebælt area, are particularly sensitive to disturbances during the mating and calving season from May to August, as it is assessed by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (2019). It’s clear that Marsvin dolphins can be potentially affected by the underwater noise of the construction work, but since the extent of this disturbance is not clear, no specific consequences are mentioned, but instead the recommendation to monitor the individual animals.

Demonstration against the project Baltic Pipe in Gammeltorv Square, Copenhagen. Photo: Kimberly Nicolaus.

While these impacts may sound little, it’s more than enough for climate activists in Copenhagen to protest against the gas pipeline. For Baltic Pipe Nej Tak any disturbance of the sea and its ecosystem is a sign that the society is running in the opposite direction, namely, away from the climate goals. In Copenhagen, Kathrine is packing her bag. Carefully, she is folding the protest banners because she wants to use them again. “We’ll keep on fighting against the Baltic Pipe and we hope that more people will do so.”

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