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28th Nov 2021

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MEP: Macron push for gas and nuclear could derail Green Deal

  • "We need gas, but to label it green defacto creates another fossil subsidy," Bas Eickhout told EUobserver. (Photo: Groenlinks Europa)
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Europe meant to project climate leadership at this years' United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, which formally opened on Sunday (31 October) and will run to November 12.

Instead, the bloc entered embroiled in disagreement and talk of crisis.

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Surging gas prices caused a group of countries, spearheaded by France, to reignite the debate on nuclear and gas at the EU Council summit, arguing they should be classified as 'green' in the EU taxonomy [classification] on sustainable finance.

The taxonomy will determine how at least €1 trillion of investment will be spent, to help reduce EU carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030.

The commission will propose a so-called delegated act - an amendment - to the taxonomy in December, which according to the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will finally decide on nuclear.

"We need more renewables, she tweeted. "We also need a stable source, nuclear, and during the transition, gas."

But French pressure and uncertainty over the labelling system threaten to derail the Green Deal, and with it, the EU's credibility as a climate leader on the global stage, taxonomy rapporteur and MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA) told EUobserver.

What happened at the EU council summit?

"The summit was very problematic. [French president Emmannuel] Macron has put pressure on the European Commission. He has threatened to vote down the commission's proposal for the taxonomy if it does not include nuclear energy.

"Macron has decided on nuclear, and he is prepared to do anything to get it. That includes creating a dirty coalition with pro-gas countries like the Visegrad Group, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.

"People [at the summit] were surprised France wasn't saying much about the rule of law issues in the Visegrad countries. I'd say: 'put two and two together'. Macron saw a coalition there, so it wasn't convenient for him to give them a hard time."

How does this influence the commission's decision?

"For outsiders, it might seem like the entire commission is on the same page when it comes to the green deal, but some in the Director-General [EU ministry] for energy have never supported the green deal. As a result, they feel empowered to push for the dirtiest gas imaginable.

"Now von der Leyen has tweeted her commitment to nuclear and gas which I think is risky. I feel we are on the defensive again.

"By the way, If I were a journalist I would remind her that she was the one that signed off on Germany's nuclear phase-out."

Finland and the Netherlands have also warmed to nuclear energy being included in the green taxonomy.

"To them, I would say: 'be careful what you wish for because you will get the dirtiest gas along with it'."

Ahead of the EU Council, France initiated a meeting with like-minded EU countries (on 18 October) to debate nuclear and gas in the context of the taxonomy.

Eickhout refers to a draft proposal leaked that circulated during the EU council meeting a week later, which he believes is written by this group.

"It essentially maintains all nuclear energy is green, citing a JRC-study [the European Commission's in-house scientific body, the Joint Research Centre] without mentioning criticisms of that decision."

[Another European commission committee reviewed the JRC-study and found it to be incomplete.]

"The document also asserts new gas-powered energy plants can be commissioned until 2030 and can be included in the green taxonomy if they emit less than 340 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour - which all modern gas stations emit.

"France denies having written it. There's no name on it. Strikingly, gas is spelt with a Z [Gaz, as in French] which gives you an indication of who the source is....[pause].

This really shows the toxicity of these negotiations. We need gas, but to label it 'green' de facto creates another fossil subsidy.

And why? All because Macron so badly wants nuclear labelled green he is willing to sign off on gas as well. That is insane. Even a diluted version of this proposal will effectively end the Green Deal."

What can the parliament do to influence the commission's decision?

"Not much, to be honest. The parliament can block the proposal. And if this shadowy plan makes it through to the official delegated act [an amendment to an EU law put forward by the commission] in December, the Greens will lobby hard against it.

"And the taxonomy has rules. So we can contest the commissions' proposal legally if it is contrary to the regulations. But right now, we can't do much."

How might this discussion affect COP26?

"Well, it is not a good look. Everybody is talking about climate action and aligning financial flows with lower climate targets.

"In June, the G7 countries, that include France, Germany and Italy, committed to, and I quote: 'achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s and to actions to accelerate this.'

"Now it becomes apparent that the same countries are considering building new gas-powered energy stations until 2030 and call it a green investment.

"At times like these, I get why people are cynical about politics."

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