European lawmakers back gas and nuclear power as sustainable


Climate activists demonstrate outside the European Parliament, Tuesday July 5, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France. The European Parliament will decide on Wednesday whether or not to accept the Commission’s proposal to classify gas and nuclear power plants as green in the EU’s list of investments that can be marketed as sustainable. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)


European Union lawmakers voted on Wednesday to include natural gas and nuclear in the bloc’s list of sustainable activities, backing a proposal by the EU executive that has drawn heavy criticism from environmental groups and will likely trigger legal challenges.

As the EU wants to set the best global standards in tackling climate change, the decision could tarnish the bloc’s image and challenge the region’s commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Earlier this year, the European Commission made the proposal as part of its plans to build a climate-friendly future, dividing member countries and sparking outcry from environmentalists over what they call “greenwashing”.

EU lawmakers from the Environment and Economy Committees opposed the plan last month, setting up the decisive vote on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France. But the deputies rejected their resolution by 328 votes against 278, 33 deputies having abstained. The result was announced to a round of applause.

An absolute majority of 353 was needed to veto the proposal. If the European Parliament and the member countries do not oppose it by July 11, the so-called taxonomic delegated act will come into force and will apply from next year.

Greenpeace immediately said it would submit a formal request for an internal review to the European Commission and then take legal action to the European Court of Justice if the result was inconclusive.

“It’s dirty politics and it’s an outrageous outcome to call gas and nuclear green and keep fueling (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war chest, but now we’re going to fight in front of the courts,” said Ariadna Rodrigo, EU sustainable finance manager at Greenpeace. activist.

European Parliament rapporteur Bas Eickhout lamented “a dark day for the climate and the energy transition”.

The European Commission’s Green Labeling Scheme defines what constitutes a sustainable energy investment. Under certain conditions, gas and nuclear energy will now be part of the mix, making it easier for private investors to inject money into both.

As the EU aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, the commission says the classification system is crucial in guiding investments in sustainable energy. He estimates that around 350 billion euros of investment per year will be needed to achieve the 2030 targets.

Bringing gas and nuclear into the equation has divided the 27 member countries amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, and even political groups in parliament.

Luxembourg’s Energy Minister Claude Turmes said he deeply regretted the European Parliament’s failure to block the commission’s plan, adding that his country – along with Austria – would continue its legal efforts to block the labeling nuclear and gas as sustainable.

Steffen Hebestreit, spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said “the German government maintains its position and regards nuclear energy as unsustainable”.

“Nevertheless, the German government sees taxonomy as an important instrument for achieving climate protection goals, as it is clear that natural gas is an important transition technology for us on the way to CO2 neutrality and energy efficiency. The inclusion of the use of natural gas in the delegated act takes this into account,” Hebestreit added.

Protests that began on Tuesday continued outside the EU legislature on Wednesday as lawmakers debated the issue.

Environmentalists warned the vote could set a precedent for lawmakers elsewhere by labeling dirty forms of energy as sustainable.

“We have now officially validated greenwashing by law,” said Tsvetelina Kuzmanova of campaign group E3G.

“The process and the decision was entirely political, not scientific, to benefit only a small number of member states,” she said. “It would have no chance in court and would only create more uncertainty for financial markets and jeopardize (the) EU’s climate ambition.”

Youth activist group Fridays for Future said billions of euros could flow into gas infrastructure and nuclear power plants as a result of the move, diverting much-needed funds from renewable alternatives.

One argument for rejecting the proposal is that it will boost sales of Russian gas at a time when it is invading neighboring Ukraine, but the European Commission said it received a letter from the Ukrainian government backing its position.

EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness quoted the Ukrainian Energy Minister’s letter on Tuesday: “I strongly believe that the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy is an important part of energy security in Europe, especially with a view to replace Russian gas”.

“I don’t think we should question that letter,” McGuinness said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine prompted the 27-nation bloc to cut ties with some Russian fossil fuels. Member countries have agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil by the end of the year in addition to a ban on Russian coal imports which will begin in August.

But the EU has not included gas – a fuel used to power factories and generate electricity – in its own sanctions for fear of seriously damaging Europe’s economy. Before the war in Ukraine, it depended on Russia for 25% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas.


Frank Jordans and Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report.

Lynn A. Saleh