As long as we continue building out pipelines and other infrastructure to pump fossil gas into our towns and homes, the transition towards clean energy simply won’t happen in Europe.

However, a law finalised earlier this week will help put us on the right path, by ensuring that local energy systems start adapting in line with EU climate targets – and start decommissioning polluting gas pipelines.

The Gas Market Package, when first adopted in 2009, was designed to promote open competition on Europe’s gas grids. But 14 years on, with fossil fuels threatening the planet’s ability to sustain human life, times have changed.

While the law was being updated this year, climate campaigners called for the rules to help fast-track a fair phaseout of gas, in line with climate science.

And this is as much a problem for household energy bills as it is a climate issue.

In Germany, over 90% the country’s gas grid could be rendered useless by 2045. If network operators fail to plan, up to €10 billion of gas infrastructure could be made redundant and German bill payers could face a 16-fold increase in grid fees.

Changing the law’s raison d’être has been an uphill battle. Fossil fuel companies have been gifted undue influence over EU gas policies, and pushed legislators working on the law to help keep their industry alive.

A case in point is the fossil fuel lobby’s call for rules that would allow gas companies to keep hold of existing pipelines or build new ones, while promising they will be filled with so-called ‘clean’ hydrogen to heat people’s homes.

Leaving aside the fact that there won’t be anywhere near enough hydrogen to fully replace fossil gas, channelling hydrogen into people’s homes will drive up energy bills and shut out cheaper, more efficient means of keeping warm, including through electrified networks powered by renewables.

Unfortunately for bill payers and for the climate, the fossil fuel lobby succeeded in getting some of its principal demands written into the law.

These give gas grid operators a high degree of control over the future of local energy systems, including the development of hydrogen networks.

This will inevitably prolong the use of fossil gas – by companies adding small amounts of hydrogen to pipeline gas and calling it climate-friendly, for example – and hook households into costly hydrogen contracts.

But a key amendment in the final law – proposed by Global Witness and NGO partners – provides a counterweight to gas firms gaining too much control over local energy systems

It means that local gas grid operators will be required to develop energy plans that align with EU climate goals, account for declining gas demand as Europe scales up energy savings and renewables, and identify gas infrastructure that needs decommissioning.

Companies will be obliged to involve stakeholders in the planning process, such as regulators, green electricity suppliers, public authorities and households, helping to ensure that future local energy networks are as efficient and climate friendly as possible. 

This is a small piece of a much larger jigsaw, and for the EU to truly accelerate the energy transition it must now move ahead and commit to a date for a full phase-out of fossil gas. But slowly, a picture of how Europe will build a future without it is starting to emerge.