Green wash? EU calls certain uses of nuclear power and natural gas ‘sustainable’

The bloc intends to attract investment and strengthen its bid to decarbonise in the wake of the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. Photo: @vonderleyen/Twitter

The European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc, classified certain uses of nuclear energy and natural gas as “sustainable” on July 7, 2022, as part of its green taxonomy system.

The EU intends to attract investment with this decision and to strengthen its attempt to decarbonise the economy, especially after the energy crisis that followed Russia’s war against Ukraine. The bloc plans to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and aims to be a climate-resilient society by 2050.

The proposal, however, faces strong opposition from activists and EU members themselves.

Some 278 Members of Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of the resolution on July 7 in Strasbourg, France, according to a press release from the European Parliament. However, 328 members voted against the resolution and 33 abstained from voting.

Parliament cannot reject the proposal without the approval of an absolute majority of 353 deputies.

EU environment committees have been fighting this agenda ever since the European Commission (EC), the executive arm of the EU, introduced the Supplementary Climate Delegated Act under the Taxonomy Regulation on March 9, 2022. The reason for this decision was to allow natural gas and nuclear energy activities.

If neither the European Parliament nor the European Council (a collegiate body) opposes the proposal by 11 July 2022, the delegated act on taxonomy will enter into force and apply from 1 January 2023, says the press release.

Energy transition with limited emissions

This inclusion of natural gas and nuclear energy in the EU green classification system does not allow policy makers and investors to use these energy sources indiscriminately.

The EU follows a green labeling system that directs private financiers to sustainable investment pathways that align with the 27-member bloc’s climate goals. The system ensures that energy consumption has a cap on emissions and a timeframe as well, probably until 2030.

The EC said in the proposal that “natural gas will continue to play an important role in terms of consumption and production until 2030, after which we expect a decline until 2050”.

“For nuclear energy activities to be included in the taxonomy, the selection criteria establish requirements that go beyond the existing regulatory framework.

“For example, extinguishment dates to accelerate the transition to advanced technologies and specific dates for the establishment of operational disposal facilities,” added the EC.

The Armed Militants

Greenpeace is considering appealing to the EC for a review. The organization plans to file a complaint with the European Court of Justice, depending on the response. Greenpeace EU campaigner for sustainable finance, Ariadna Rodrigo, reportedly said in the group’s press release:

It’s dirty politics and it’s an outrageous outcome to call gas and nuclear green and keep pouring more money into Putin’s war chest, but now we’re going to fight in front of the courts.

“The dastardly behind-the-scenes work of the European Commission on behalf of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries will not help them there. We are inspired by climate activists here in Strasbourg this week and are confident that the courts will invalidate this politically motivated greenwashing as clearly in breach of EU law,” Rodrigo added.