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A licence to pollute

Gas and nuclear projects labelled sustainable investments under proposed EU energy policy
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A licence to pollute

Late on 31 December 2021, the European Commission confidentially circulated a plan that would classify fossil gas and nuclear power as ‘sustainable’ investments.

The plan was then leaked to the media. It appears that the Commission will not hold a public consultation on this plan – the second chapter of the EU ‘taxonomy’ – despite having done so three times for the first chapter, which covered renewable energy.

’Sustainability’ criteria

According to the Commission document, nuclear projects with a construction permit issued by 2045 would be eligible for private investments, as long as they can provide plans for the management of radioactive waste and for decommissioning.

Gas projects with permits issued until 2030 would also be eligible, provided they fulfil a series of conditions, including emissions under 270g CO₂e/kWh.

These provisions would deal a significant blow to the EU’s climate and environment action.

‘This ‘loophole’ could be a drain for Europe’s climate ambitions, as they switch from phasing out dirty fuels, to phasing out dirty fuels only when it seems convenient. The UK must resist being pulled into this failing approach, get ahead of the EU’s mistakes and exclude nuclear and gas from its own green label for investment.’

Greenpeace UK policy director

’Shocking disregard’ for climate crisis

Nuclear power generates high-level radioactive waste, and a commercially viable long-term solution has yet to be found.

Fossil gas is already the leading source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power generation in Europe.

Greenpeace has warned that encouraging investments in fossil gas by giving it a green label will only exacerbate its devastating climate impact.

In both cases, renewables are cheaper and faster to deploy, meaning that sending the wrong signal to private investors could disrupt the energy transition towards 100% renewables and delay the EU’s progress on its climate commitments.

The development comes after the EU had already severely undermined the taxonomy last year by labelling the burning of trees for energy as another sustainable activity. 

‘The Commission’s taxonomy is a licence to greenwash. Polluting companies will be delighted to have the EU’s seal of approval to attract cash and keep wrecking the planet by burning fossil gas and producing radioactive waste. Promoting these toxic and expensive forms of energy for decades to come is a real threat to Europe’s energy transition. The Commission has shown a shocking disregard for the climate crisis, nature and the people of Europe. The European Parliament and governments need to stop this plan.’

Greenpeace EU programme director

Published under the radar

Following feedback from government representatives and experts, the Commission will present the final text later in January.

National governments and the European Parliament have the power to reject the proposal to stop it from automatically entering into force.

‘Short of digging an actual hole, the European Commission couldn’t have tried harder to bury this proposal. When the question was whether renewables are green, the Commission gave citizens three chances to provide their opinion. For fossil gas and nuclear, we get a document written behind closed doors and published on New Year’s Eve. If the EU is confident in this proposal, it must hold a public consultation.’

Spokesman on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office

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