The EU is planning to label energy from nuclear power and natural gas as “green” sources for investment despite internal disagreement over whether they truly qualify as sustainable options, BBC reports.
The proposal, seen by AFP on Saturday, aims to support the 27-nation bloc’s shift towards a carbon-neutral future and gild its credentials as a global standard-setter for fighting climate change.
But the fact the European Commission quietly distributed the text to member states late on Friday, in the final hours of 2021 after the much-delayed document had been twice promised earlier in the year, highlighted the rocky road to draft it.
If a majority of member states back it, it will become EU law, coming into effect from 2023.
The commission confirmed on Saturday that it has started consulting with member states on the proposal where it covers nuclear and gas energy.
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“The activities covered in this complementary Delegated Act would accelerate the phase-out of more harmful sources, such as coal, and in moving us towards a more low-carbon greener energy mix,” it said.
It said it “considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future”.
France has led the charge for nuclear power – its main energy source – to be included, despite robust opposition from Austria and scepticism from Germany, which is in the process of shutting all its nuclear plants.
Germany’s Environment Minister Steffi Lemke told German media group Funke on Saturday that including gas and nuclear would be “a mistake”, arguing that atomic power “can lead to devastating environmental catastrophes”.
Fossil-reliant countries in the EU’s east and south have defended the use of natural gas, at least as a transitional source, even though it still produces significant greenhouse emissions.
“It is necessary to recognize that the fossil gas and nuclear energy sectors can contribute to the decarbonization of the Union’s economy,” the commission proposal says.
It added that, for nuclear power, appropriate measures should be put in place for radioactive waste management and disposal.
Its proposal calls for the building of new nuclear power plants to be conditioned on permits given out before 2045, and work to extend the functioning of existing plants would need to be authorized before 2040.
For gas, it said that carbon-emission limits should be set to well below those produced by coal-burning plants, and it should only be a transitionary source with plants needing building permits given before 2031.
The member states and experts consulted by the commission have two weeks to demand revisions to the proposal before a final draft is published in mid-January.
The European Parliament would then have four months to either approve or reject the text with a simple vote.
Fury as EU moves ahead with plans to label gas and nuclear as ‘green’
The European Commission is facing a furious backlash over plans to allow gas and nuclear to be labeled as “green” investments, as Germany’s economy minister led the charge against “greenwashing”, The Guardian states.
The EU executive was accused of trying to bury the proposals by releasing long-delayed technical rules on its green investment guidebook to diplomats on New Year’s Eve, hours before a deadline expired.
The draft proposals seen by the Guardian would allow gas and nuclear to be included in the EU “taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities”, subject to certain conditions.
The taxonomy is a classification system intended to direct billions to clean-energy projects to meet the EU goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
Robert Habeck, who became the economy and climate action minister last month as part of a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens, said the plans “water down the good label for sustainability.” Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens, also told the German press agency dpa it was “questionable whether this greenwashing will even find acceptance on the financial market.”
Austria’s government repeated its threat to sue the commission if the plans go ahead. Leonore Gewessler, the country’s climate action minister, said neither gas nor nuclear belonged in the taxonomy “because they are harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children”.
She added: “We will examine the current draft carefully and have already commissioned a legal opinion on nuclear power in the taxonomy. If these plans are implemented in this way, we will sue.”
She also accused the commission of a “a night and fog operation” in the timing of the publication, a charge echoed by Luxembourg’s energy minister, Claude Turmes, who described the draft as a provocation.
However, opponents are not expected to secure the supermajority needed to block the plans.
France and other pro-nuclear states, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, support the inclusion of nuclear, while many governments in central, eastern and southern Europe lobbied for gas to be included as a “bridge” fuel.
Germany’s finance minister, Christian Lindner of the FDP, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday that Germany needed gas-fired power plants as a transition technology because it was foregoing coal and nuclear power. “I am grateful that arguments were apparently taken up by the commission,” he said.
He was speaking after Germany closed three of its six nuclear power plants on Friday, to meet a pledge of phasing out the technology by the end of 2022.
France’s European affairs minister, Clément Beaune, said the proposal was good on a technical level and the EU could not reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 without nuclear power.
Under the draft, gas could only be classed as a “sustainable investment” if “the same energy capacity cannot be generated with renewable sources” and plans are in place to switch to renewables or “low carbon gases” by a specific date. Nuclear power could only be included if a project demonstrated it had a plan to deal with radioactive waste.
NGOs accused the commission of seeking to evade scrutiny. WWF, a member of an official expert group on the taxonomy, said the commission had allowed just eight working days – until 12 January – to provide a formal response “to this highly complex and controversial file”, whereas most Brussels consultations last four weeks.
“The European Commission couldn’t have tried harder to bury this proposal,” said the WWF spokesperson on sustainable finance, Henry Eviston. “For fossil gas and nuclear, we get a document written behind closed doors and published on New Year’s Eve. If the EU is confident in this proposal, it must hold a public consultation.”
The EU taxonomy became law in July 2020, but legislators left important details to be resolved through “delegated acts” – secondary legislation meant for technical issues that is not subject to the same degree of ministerial and parliamentary oversight.
The plans have already attracted the ire of Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists, who say this “fake climate action” contradicts the EU’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
The proposal argues that gas and nuclear are key to helping transition to cleaner power.
But Germany’s environment minister called the plan “absolutely wrong”.
It comes months after countries pledged to keep temperature rises within 1.5° C at the COP26 climate summit.
“It is necessary to recognise that the fossil gas and nuclear energy sectors can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Union’s economy,” the Commission’s proposal says.
Under the proposal, only gas and nuclear plants with the highest standards would be considered green. Nuclear plants would also have to have strict waste disposal plans, Deutsche Welle reports. While gas plants would have a limit of how much carbon dioxide is released per kilowatt-hour of energy produced.
If a majority of EU members back the proposal then it will become law from 2023.
France had reportedly pushed for nuclear power to be included. The country relies on nuclear energy for 70% of its electricity, although this will be cut to half over the next 15 years.
France has also pledged to reduce its reliance on nuclear power by shutting down 12 nuclear reactors by 2035.
The move has been criticized by Germany, which is in the process of phasing out nuclear completely and only has a few plants remaining.
German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke described the proposal as “wrong”, adding that nuclear energy could lead to environmental disasters and large amounts of nuclear waste.
Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck called the plan “greenwashing”, saying it “waters down the good label for sustainability.”
It’s not a competition, but renewables are beating nuclear anyway. The gap between the two widened for four full decades, but with nuclear generation basically flat since the turn of the century and renewables continuing to grow, the latter caught the former in 2020. You may read more here.