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EC faces backlash against plans to label gas and nuclear as sustainable

The European Commission (EC) is expected to propose rules this month (January 2022) to label some natural gas and nuclear energy projects as sustainable ‘green investments’, after long arguments between Member States over which investments can be considered climate-friendly.

However, according to The Guardian, Germany’s  new Economy and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck has been leading the charge against ‘greenwashing.’ The EU executive was accused of trying to bury the proposals by releasing long-delayed technical rules on its green investment guide to diplomats on New Year’s eve 2021, hours before a deadline expired.

The draft proposals would allow gas and nuclear to be included in the EU ‘taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities,’ subject to certain conditions (see below). This classification system is intended to direct massive investment to clean energy projects across Europe to meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Habeck, as part of a coalition of Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens, was quoted as saying that the plans: ‘water down the good label for sustainability… and it was questionable whether this greenwashing will even find acceptance on the financial market.’ While Austria’s government suggested it would sue the commission if the plans went ahead.

According to Reuters, a draft of the Commission’s proposal would label nuclear plant investments as ‘green’ if the project has a plan, funds and a site to safely dispose of radioactive waste. To be deemed green, new nuclear plants must receive construction permits before 2045.

Investments in natural gas power plants would also be labelled green if they produce emissions below 270g of carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh, replacing a more polluting fossil fuel plant. Under the rules, gas-powered plants must receive a construction permit by 31 December 2030 and plan to switch to low-carbon gas by the end of 2035.

Gas and nuclear power generation would both be labelled green on the grounds that they are ‘transitional activities’ – defined as not fully sustainable, but which have emissions below industry average and do not lock-in polluting assets.

The European Commission said in a press statement: ‘Taking account of scientific advice and current technological progress as well as varying transition challenges across Member States, the Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future.’

After scrutiny of the draft EC proposal, the published version could still be vetoed by certain EU countries (if they have a majority) or the European Parliament. France, the Czech Republic and Hungary are all pro-nuclear states, while many governments in central, eastern and southern Europe have lobbied for gas to be included as a ‘bridge’ fuel. German Finance Minister Christian Lindner is also reported to have said that Germany needs gas power plants as a transition technology because it is foregoing coal and nuclear power.

On the nuclear front, France’s European affairs minister Clément Beaune maintains the EU could not reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 without nuclear power.

News Item details


Journal title: Energy World

Subjects: Oil and gas Nuclear

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