Fury as the EU pushes on with plans to classify gas and nuclear as “green”

The European Commission is facing a strong reaction over proposals to enable gas and nuclear projects to be labeled as “green,” with Germany’s economics minister leading the campaign against “greenwashing.”

The EU executive has been accused of attempting to bury the ideas by providing long-delayed technical regulations on its green investment guideline to ambassadors on New Year’s Eve, just hours before a deadline.

Under certain situations, the draft proposals seen by the Guardian would allow gas and nuclear to be included in the EU’s “taxonomy of ecologically friendly economic activity.” The taxonomy is a categorization system designed to divert billions of dollars to clean-energy projects in order to achieve the EU’s objective of net zero emissions by 2050.

Robert Habeck, who took over as Economy and Climate Action Minister last month as part of a shaky coalition of Social Democrats, business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), and Greens, said the measures “wet down the excellent label for sustainability.” Habeck, a Green Party co-leader, also said that it was “doubtful if this greenwashing can ever find approval on the financial market.”

Austria’s government has threatened to sue the commission if the proposals are carried out. The country’s climate action minister, Leonore Gewessler, claimed neither gas nor nuclear belonged in the taxonomy “because they are damaging to the climate and the ecosystem and damage our children’s future.”

“We will thoroughly review the present draft, and we have already commissioned a legal opinion on nuclear power in the taxonomy,” she added. We will sue if these plans are carried out in this manner.” She also accused the commission of a “night and fog operation” in terms of timing, a charge repeated by Luxembourg’s energy minister, Claude Turmes, who called the draft a provocation.

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However, opponents are not expected to secure the supermajority needed to block the plans. France and other pro-nuclear states, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, backed nuclear inclusion, whereas many governments in central, eastern, and southern Europe advocated for gas inclusion as a “bridge” fuel.

Christian Lindner of the FDP, Germany’s finance minister, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday that Germany needed gas-fired power facilities as a transition technology since it was abandoning coal and nuclear power. “I am glad that the commission appears to have taken up the issues,” he remarked. He was speaking after Germany shut down three of its six nuclear power facilities on Friday in order to meet a vow to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022.

Clément Beaune, France’s European Affairs Minister, said the plan was fine on a technical level, but the EU could not achieve its aim of carbon neutrality by 2050 without nuclear power.

According to the draft, gas might be classified as a “sustainable investment” only if “the same energy capacity cannot be provided from renewable sources” and arrangements are in place to transition to renewables or “low carbon gases” by a certain date. Nuclear power might be included only if a project proved a plan for dealing with radioactive waste.

NGOs charged the commission with attempting to avoid scrutiny. According to WWF, a member of an official expert group on taxonomy, the commission has given only eight working days – until January 12 – to deliver a formal answer “to this extraordinarily complicated and contentious file,” although typical Brussels consultations span four weeks.

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“The European Commission could not have tried harder to bury this plan,” said Henry Eviston, WWF’s representative on sustainable finance. “We receive a paper created behind closed doors and published on New Year’s Eve for fossil gas and nuclear.” If the EU is confident in its approach, a public consultation is required.”

The EU taxonomy became law in July 2020, but legislators allowed critical specifics to be handled through “delegated acts” — secondary legislation intended for technical concerns that does not require the same level of ministerial and parliamentary review. Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists have already criticized the proposals, calling them “false climate action” that violates the EU’s objective of net zero emissions by 2050.