Saturday

1st Oct 2022

Opinion

Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia

  • The controversial taxonomy faces a simple majority vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday — and unusually, the result is far from certain (Photo: European Parliament)
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Two days before Vladimir Putin launched his illegal war on my home country Ukraine, Russian energy minister Nikolai Shulginov gave an interview addressing the European Commission's taxonomy on sustainable activities.

As Europe's main gas supplier, he told industry website Energy Intelligence, Russia would "​​stand against the idea that natural gas is not a fuel for the energy transition".

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He was pleased that gas was included in the EU's green taxonomy, which he said presented "a range of opportunities" for Russia.

Months later, with Ukrainians fighting for the survival of their country, we look on in disbelief as the taxonomy remains unchanged, still rife with "opportunities" for Russia.

In spite of the endless rhetoric about how the invasion of Ukraine has changed everything, the European Commission has failed to remove gas from the taxonomy — its list of sustainable energy sources meant to prevent corporate and state level "greenwashing".

The controversial taxonomy faces a simple majority vote in the European parliament on Wednesday (6 July) — and unusually, the result is far from certain.

There is a growing sense in Brussels that a defeat for the taxonomy is within reach, with a cross-party and transnational alliance against the proposal growing.

Crucially, the centre-right European People's Party — the largest bloc in the parliament with more than a quarter of all MEPs — is currently split down the middle on the issue. It has announced that it will allow a free vote. Meanwhile the Greens and Socialists and Democrats are opposed to the taxonomy on principle.

As it stands, the taxonomy stipulates using gas to replace coal will be classed as sustainable only if the state has committed to phase out the use of energy generation from coal.

This is a particular blow to central and eastern European members — not one of which is currently in a position to make these commitments: paradoxically, countries that need most assistance to transition to renewables would gain the least from the taxonomy. It does not actually incentivise the idea of gas as a transitional fuel — ultimately failing on its own terms. This problem would also affect Ukraine.

The EU has suggested the rebuilding of Ukraine's energy resilience should be "in line with the most recent European policies and standards". If the taxonomy passes as it stands, this will be impossible.

Among investors, the taxonomy has also faced criticism. The Net Zero Alliance, a group of 73 institutional investors, has stated that the inclusion of gas "would be inconsistent with the high ambition level of the EU taxonomy framework overall."

For us in Ukraine, the implications of the taxonomy are obvious.

Not even Russia or China

Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, wrote to German MEPs on 28 June warning that "[I]f the European Union improves the conditions for investments in gas infrastructure by adopting the delegated act, Russia will benefit. This would be a fatal signal in this difficult phase in which the people in my home country find themselves."

The grim irony of the EU's taxonomy can be found in the fact that even Russia does not include gas in its taxonomy on sustainable activities. Nor does China.

Europe seems unwilling to make a move that could deal a serious blow to Russia's gambit that it will be able to continue to sell gas and oil to a needy west, regardless of the outcome of its war against Ukraine.

In 2021, Russia earned an estimated $43.4bn [€42bn] in gas revenues from the EU and UK — revenues that have funded the war against Ukraine.

An end to the war will only come when Europe clearly severs its umbilical link to Russian energy, once and for all — an option that the green taxonomy actively precludes.

MEPs have an opportunity on Wednesday to strike a blow for democracy and our common fight against climate change both within the EU and beyond its borders. All of Ukraine will be watching.

Author bio

Svitlana Romanko is Ukrainian, a former associate professor of environmental law at Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University, and anti-fossil fuels activist, who now heads up the Stand With Ukraine campaign, calling for a total and permanent embargo on Russian fossil fuels and an immediate end to all investment into Russian oil and gas companies.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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