East Med gas competition ‘futile’ compared to environmental impact - report

Natural gas reserves at the centre of tensions between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean should remain untapped to reduce the risk of climate change, campaign group Global Witness said on Friday.

In January, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a deal for the construction of a pipeline connecting gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. But Turkey has also sought to assert its own claims in the region, deploying military and research vessels to disputed waters. The move has led to incidents with the Greek Navy.

Global Witness warned that competition in the contested region was at risk of escalating.

“Disputes between countries over who controls fossil fuels too often turn violent, with terrible civilian costs,” the group said, adding that the eastern Mediterranean dispute was ultimately “futile”. “Conflict in the eastern Mediterranean would represent a particularly wasteful fight: if the climate emergency is to be tackled successfully the gas over which Europe and Turkey are jockeying cannot be used.”

The European Union is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, a target Global Witness said would require a drastic decrease in gas consumption before the next decade, just as the eastern Mediterranean pipeline is set to come online.

“As EU demand plummets, this gas will only decrease further in value. It is critical that officials realize this before risking conflict in the region.”

Aside from the geopolitical implications, the campaign group said the pipeline would also come at a significant environmental cost: “By 2050, it would produce almost as much as carbon as France and Spain together emit in a year.”

But shared interests over the international impact of climate change could instead provide the basis for de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean, Global Witness said.  

“The best way to achieve this is for the parties to realize that the fossil gas over which they are fighting has little value without blowing a hole through efforts to curb climate change.”