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22nd Jan 2022

Critics attack Commission's New Year's Eve nuclear and gas plan

  • The long-awaited announcement from the EU Commission came last Friday - New Year's Eve (Photo: IAEA Imagebank)
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The European Commission has been accused of undermining public scrutiny of its controversial plans to label natural gas and nuclear as "green" - after it published its long-awaited proposal on New Year's Eve.

"The draft was made available at a time where nobody was watching," said the European Consumer Organisation, pointing out this is a well-rehearsed technique for avoiding attention.

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"This is a clear attempt to minimise media reactions and proper scrutiny," echoed the environmental group Transport & Environment.

"Short of digging an actual hole, the European Commission couldn't have tried harder to bury this proposal," said Henry Eviston from WWF Europe.

The EU executive, however, rejected the accusations, arguing it was a "very complex and sensitive topic". "We weren't trying to do it on the sly, if you like, by going for 31 December," a commission spokesperson said on Monday (3 January).

The draft proposal would see certain investments in gas and nuclear included in the list of "environmentally-sustainable economic activities" under the EU guidelines on sustainable finance, officially known as the EU taxonomy.

This controversial approach has divided member states, with France leading efforts for the inclusion of nuclear and governments in southern and eastern Europe defending the role of gas in the decarbonisation of the EU's economy.

But others said labelling nuclear and gas as green would undermine the EU's entire sustainable finance framework.

Austria and Germany have strongly rejected the proposal, accusing the EU executive of "greenwashing". Austria's climate minister Leonore Gewessler tweeted that Vienna would seek a legal opinion on suing the commission if it goes ahead and implements the proposal.

Luxembourg has also made clear their opposition, with energy minister Claude Turmes calling it a "provocation".

And Spanish energy minister Teresa Ribera was quoted by El Pais arguing that such move "makes no sense" and "sends the wrong signals for the energy transition of the whole of the EU".

The taxonomy was designed to incentivise investment in Europe's green transition and address so-called greenwashing in financial markets - but critics now fear that it might end up becoming a greenwashing tool itself.

"The commission's taxonomy is a licence to greenwash. Polluting companies will be delighted to have the EU's seal of approval to attract cash and keep wrecking the planet," said Magda Stoczkiewicz from Greenpeace.

Last year, environmental lawyers said that the commission's plans to include gas and nuclear in the taxonomy would be "unlawful" since it could clash with EU laws and international commitments.

All technologies covered by the taxonomy are subject to the "do no significant harm" principle. This means that while contributing to one environmental objective, the activity must not significantly harm any of the other goals.

While nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, managing radioactive waste can be costly and problematic.

The EU executive launched a consultation with the technical advisory group for the taxonomy also on New Year's Eve, setting a short deadline to provide feedback on the proposal on 12 January.

A majority of EU countries, or the European Parliament, could still object and revoke the decision, after four months of scrutiny.

Analysis

Are nuclear and gas green? Depends if you ask EU or experts

The taxonomy for sustainable activities was meant to be a purely science-based classification system - but it has become bogged down by political infighting (not least between Paris and Berlin), threatening its credibility.

Opinion

Gas and nuclear: a lose-lose scenario for Eastern Europe

The strong advocacy of Central and Eastern European capitals for including fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU's green taxonomy only leads to another unsustainable energy lock-in for the region, leaving their grid exposed to third-country coercion.

EU gas and nuclear rules derided as 'biggest greenwash ever'

Experts and activists have warned the European Commission that including natural gas and nuclear power in its plan for sustainable finance will lead to further greenwashing, split financial markets and undermine the bloc's climate objectives.

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