The 'shock' of the war in Ukraine already causes environmental setbacks

The war in Ukraine has caused a shock in Europe and Spain. The consequences have led to the adoption of extraordinary measures both in the European Union and by the Government. The risk is that the urgency of the war will overwhelm environmental safeguards that had been put in place.

"It is not acceptable that the measures adopted to combat this crisis negatively affect nature," reflect environmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth, SEO-Birdlife, Greenpeace, WWF or Ecologists in Action. However, as the war continues, ideas arise that imply funds for the fossil fuels responsible for the climate crisis, look with renewed sympathy at nuclear energy or raise environmental demands when carrying out certain economic activities.

Spain, for example, has been repeatedly warned by the European Commission that it should reduce public subsidies that are harmful to nature. One of the main points was especially favorable tax treatment for diesel. Despite lowering the difference between gasoline and diesel, the last Brussels review of 2019 said that the margin still held at more than 25%.

The rise in hydrocarbon prices in the first quarter of the year, finally aggravated by the Russian attack –which led to an employer mobilization of carriers or that part of the fishing fleet did not fish– has ended up bringing an extra subsidy to fuel. The price itself has not fallen, 20 public cents per liter is paid to lower the final consumer's bill.

The objective of reducing dependence on Russian gas generated by Europe has revived interest in the gas connection that passes through the Mediterranean, the Midcat. But this infrastructure is not yet done and its budget is around 3,000 million euros. The European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, said on Tuesday that she prefers that money be allocated to electricity connections from the peninsula, although she has not closed the definitive door on this gas pipeline. The project was of interest to the European Union until 2020 when it declined. In fact, two official Spanish and French audits had analyzed that it was not very profitable.

At the same time, The paralyzed Enagás plant in El Musel (Asturias) has been recovered. After being separated for years due to its legal cracks, it now has the approval of the Executive to be a warehouse in the idea that Spain acts as a gas reserve that allows speeding up the transit of methane tankers to the rest of Europe.

The executive director of Greenpeace, Eva Saldaña, asks not to take "steps back" towards an "unsustainable model" which, in her opinion, represents recovering these two gas projects.

The increase in the price of electricity in Europe due to its connection with gas bought from Russia has changed the view of nuclear energy in places where it was in the farewell phase. Without going any further, Germany.

There they had a schedule for shutting down their last three reactors that can now be reviewed. Even a Greens minister, Robert Habeck, has not ruled it out. At the moment, the accounts do not come out to the German Government: they contribute little to their electricity generation to maintain their risks, according to the Minister of the Environment, Steffi Lemke. But that was in March and the war continues.

The implementation of large wind or photovoltaic fields were already generating some protest movements in the territories. Especially in cases of large areas chosen to be covered with solar panels or rows of very large wind turbines. The environmental evaluation of the projects is the guarantee to which both the installers and the Executive have referred.

What has happened is that, coming face to face with Russia's still fossil dependency, the European Union has asked to speed up the disengagement. The decree of special measures for the war says that "the exorbitant increase in the price of electricity in the wholesale markets (...) fundamentally driven by the increase in the price of gas" makes it "essential to accelerate the ecological transition to reduce emissions and dependence of imported fossil fuels. So the processing of renewable fields has been greatly simplified: it will even be possible to avoid the environmental impact assessment after a first analysis in the projected facilities that do not set foot in protected areas.

This article affects large solar plants of about 300 hectares and fields of about 25 wind turbines. In this sense, the deputy of United We Can, Juantxo López Uralde, has said that the "necessary" transition to renewable energies, "cannot suppose the suppression of environmental guarantees".

The European Commission has allowed land of ecological interest to be dedicated to cultivation without penalizing. Brussels maintains payments to farms with "beneficial practices for the climate and the environment" even if these practices are not carried out in exchange for producing more.

Funds are paid if crop types are diversified. And the land that is left fallow, that is not worked so that the soil recovers and regenerates, counts in that diversification. "The lands that were going to remain fallow may be grazed or planted with any crop without this posing any problem to the farmer in paying the PAC aid," explained the Ministry of Agriculture when implementing this measure.

Thus, 600,000 hectares will be put into cultivation that were going to rest to "facilitate the increase in agricultural production," according to Agriculture. For the general secretary of WWF, Juan Carlos del Olmo, this measure shows that "when the crisis arrives, the cracks in the intensivist system become evident."

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