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EU ‘greenwashes’ gas and nuclear: what does it mean for climate goals?

The European Parliament voted this week to label gas and nuclear as “green” sources of energy, a decision slammed by environmental groups as a blow to the EU’s climate goals.

Known as the EU’s “taxonomy”, the classification is meant to help private investors identify clean energy sources in line with the bloc’s goal to be climate neutral by 2050.

Proponents argue they are necessary for the energy transition.

The decision essentially greenlights further investment in gas, a fossil fuel, and nuclear energy – which, environmentalists point out, produces a large amount of radioactive waste that damages the environment. Building nuclear plants is also costly and energy-intensive.

In a vote on Wednesday, the European Parliament failed to muster enough MEPs to block the European Commission’s plan, as 328 voted in favour and 278 objected to putting gas and nuclear on par with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. 

Legal actions by countries and environmental groups 

Environmental groups criticised the decision, and are gearing up for a series of legal challenges.

Greenpeace has announced it will submit a request for internal review to the EU Commission, and then proceed to take the case to the European Court of Justice should this be unsuccessful.

“The EU Commission’s shameful backroom dealing on behalf of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries won’t help them there,” said Greenpeace’s EU sustainable finance campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo.

“[The decision] deals a big blow to the European Green Deal and to climate policies in line with the 1.5°C Paris goals,” said Stefano Ciafani of the Italian environmental group Legambiente. 

“It’s a political decision with no basis in science,” he added.  

The energy ministers of Austria and Luxembourg have also announced a plan to take the decision before the European Court of Justice. The two countries object to the classification of nuclear energy as clean based on a lack of clear plans to dispose of nuclear waste. 

The EU Commission’s own Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance (TEF) had previously recommended excluding nuclear energy from the EU’s taxonomy on the basis it does not meet the ‘Do No Significant Harm’ principle.

France and Germany on the side of gas and nuclear lobbies 

French President Emmanuel Macron has been pushing for nuclear power to be included in the taxonomy. As the EU tries to wean itself off Russian gas, France eyes nuclear energy as a solution to the resulting energy crunch. Nuclear power provides 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

Germany, which opposed the inclusion of nuclear in the taxonomy, but has been strongly in favour of including gas in the taxonomy.

“Natural gas is an important bridging technology for us on the way to CO2 neutrality, and the inclusion of natural gas in the delegated act takes this into account,” said Steffen Hebestreit,  a spokesman for the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. The stance was welcomed by German industry, but has split the German government as it was criticised by the Greens.

“Paris agreed to greenwash the Russian gas on which German industry depends, and Berlin agreed to greenwash the French nuclear industry”, said former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

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