Gas and nuclear as green energy? The European Parliament may disagree and reject the taxonomy proposed by the European Commission
On February 2, 2022, the European Commission adopted a “delegated act complementary to the European taxonomy of sustainable activities”, i.e. a document which classifies certain gas and nuclear power plants whose emissions are below certain thresholds as transitional activities, defined by Mairead McGuinnes, European Commissioner for Financial Services, “an imperfect solution but a real solution”.
The act should come into force from 2023 if the Council or the European Parliament (EP) does not veto it. While there will apparently be no major problems getting Council approval, Parliament may have some surprises in store.
A political compromise
The addition of these two energy sources is essentially the expression of the specific interests of the Member States, France and Germany in the lead. In fact, France produces a large part of its energy thanks to nuclear power plants, and the French president Macron himself said that “nuclear energy should be included in the taxonomy” being “one of the solutions to decarbonize our economies”. Germany, on the other hand, again for reasons of domestic energy supply, insisted that restrictions on gas be relaxed.
To meet the needs of States, the Commission launched a consultation in January 2022 on the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy. However, there was no shortage of opposition, especially from Parliament.
The chairs of the EP’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety have drawn up a joint statement letter to the Commission in which they criticize the tight deadline and the procedure for this consultation.
Two letters have arrived from some members of the Socialists and Democrats Group, one criticizing the consultation process and the other directly raising concerns about the inclusion of gas and nuclear energy in the taxonomy.
The Greens, on the other hand, have started collecting signatures to “stop the greenwashing of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy”.
Critics also came from individuals. In an open letter to the EU institutions, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, a group of investors worth €50 trillion, called on the EU to reconsider the decision to include the gas in the taxonomy to avoid confusing investors by sending mixed signals and ultimately undermining efforts. towards the energy transition.
Non-governmental organizations have also strongly criticized the delegated act, with WWF directly asking MEPs to reject the Commission’s so-called “greenwashing” proposal.
The war in Ukraine and gas
The war in Ukraine has made the issue of energy production in the EU an even more heated political battleground.
With 40% of the natural gas used in Europe imported from Russia, on the very day of the attack, the instability caused by the Russian invasion caused the price of gas to increase by 30%, continuing to rise as the conflict worsened. . and raise the issue of EU energy dependence.
On March 1, Parliament approved the resolution on the Russian aggression against Ukraine in which, inter alia, the Commission and the Member States are called upon to restrict the import of the main Russian products, including oil and gas, to considerably reduce energy dependence on vis-à-vis Russia and to permanently abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
On March 3, the Greens wrote a letter to the European Commission, drawing up a series of actions to be carried out to promote the energy transition, also in response to Russian aggression. Demands include the adoption of an “EU Energy Independence Act” increasing funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy as well as the introduction of sectoral measures for energy saving and dissemination of renewables, as well as the withdrawal of the EU delegated act for gas and nuclear taxonomy.
On March 8, the Commission adopted REPowerEU, “a plan to free Europe from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, starting with gas, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. The plan envisages diversifying gas supply, buying it from countries other than Russia, accelerating the introduction of renewable gas and replacing gas in heating and power generation.
The Greens commented negatively on REPowerEU with a statement saying that “the Commission’s plans fall short and fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”, proposing actions which “would take years to implement, creating dependence on fossil fuels”, and that “the European Union must make us independent of fossil fuels by promoting energy efficiency”, because “Putin’s war clearly shows that betting on gas as a fuel transition is a big mistake. The Commission should urgently review its scenarios and withdraw the delegated act which currently includes gas and nuclear energy in the EU taxonomy.”
On March 9, more than 100 members of the European Parliament, from all parliamentary groups, also proposed a ban on Russian fossil fuel imports. However, Parliament is divided on this issue: the chairman of the Parliament’s environment committee himself, the French liberal Pascal Canfin, has declared that he will not vote for such a ban, because Europe simply does not have the ability to drop Russian gas overnight without serious economic repercussions.
Will Parliament reject the delegated act?
Precisely in the aftermath of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Parliament could reach a political agreement to prevent gas and nuclear energy from being considered green investments. In a letter to the European Commission dated March 15, 102 MEPs from 5 different political groups pointed out that overcoming energy dependence on Russia is in contrast to the inclusion of gas in the taxonomy, which rather goes in the opposite direction, increasing the need for Raw Gas Material.
With a simple majority of 353 of its members, Parliament could veto the delegated act. Although the front seems united only among the Greens, between the Socialists and Democrats, and the radical left, the fact that certain representatives of the Popular Party and the Liberals have signed this letter seems to echo the Green Bas Eickhout, vice-president of the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment, which said that a consensus against gas seems to be emerging in the European Parliament.
According to EURACTIV sources, the figures to reject the Commission’s proposal in parliament could only exist if the People’s Party changed its position and decided to align itself with the Greens and the left-wing parties.
The EU’s goal of eliminating its net emissions by 2050 will require significant investment, mainly private finance. The EU taxonomy is a classification system that indicates which economic activities can be considered as sustainable investments. It includes a list of economic activities, with detailed environmental criteria that each activity must meet to qualify as “green”.
In fact, the European institutions want to give rules that help to eliminate greenwashing by companies, by directing private investments towards activities that effectively contribute to the achievement of the EU’s decarbonisation objectives and, in the future, by also conditioning access to certain European financing instruments.
The EU classifies three types of green activities. The former contribute directly to the achievement of decarbonization objectives. The latter facilitate other ecological activities. Finally, transition activities, while not completely sustainable, have lower emissions than the industry average and do not preclude greener alternatives.
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