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Despite a big backlash, Brussels labels gas and nuclear as sustainable
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 02 - 02 - 2022

Ignoring the furious backlash and accusations of greenwashing, the European Commission has decided to move forward with its highly controversial plans to label gas and nuclear activities as sustainable, hoping the two sectors can help the bloc meet its ambitious road map to climate neutrality.
The move has been under discussion for months and has been delayed several times due to deep-seated disagreements between EU countries, which have sent public letters and statements to make their cases.
Brussels circulated a draft document on New Year's Eve, a highly unusual date that reflects the explosive nature of the matter.
Following the feedback from governments, MEPs and expert groups — which featured "many diverging views", according to EU officials — the Commission has taken the official step of proposing a green label for gas and nuclear energy.
As a result, the two sectors will be included in the EU taxonomy, a technical rulebook that allows private and public investors to make informed choices about climate-conscious investments.
The taxonomy covers a long list of projects that make a "substantial contribution" to at least one environmental objective of the EU's climate policy while avoiding significant harm to any of the other five.
The system has already labeled sectors such as solar energy, geothermal, hydrogen, wind power, hydropower and bioenergy as green.
The entrance of gas and nuclear into the taxonomy has raised the alarm among several member states and outraged civil society organizations, which have repeatedly warned the tweak will undermine the bloc's climate transition and violate the Paris Agreement.
Spain has said the plans "make no sense," while Austria and Luxembourg have invoked the possibility of a legal challenge against Brussels.
In its defense, the Commission stressed that both energy sources will be treated as "transitional" and will be subject to "strict conditions" to ensure they contribute to the phase-out of coal, oil and other heavy fossil fuels.
For example, gas-powered plants under the taxonomy will have to comply with a limit of 270g of CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour and will have until 2035 to become low-carbon.
The EU Platform on Sustainable Finance, an advisory group that was tasked with reviewing the draft decision before its publication, has rejected this reasoning, arguing no gas plant is green "at any point in its life".
Meanwhile, nuclear reactors will have to comply with high safety standards to be part of the taxonomy and will have to receive a construction permit by 2045 at the very latest.
A group of anti-nuclear EU countries, led by Germany, have forcefully contested the labeling of nuclear as sustainable given the high costs of construction and hazardous radioactive waste, which in their view violate the "do not harm" principle.
But a wider, and equally vocal, pro-nuclear coalition, spearheaded by France, have defended the energy source as affordable, stable and independent, as well as comparably low-carbon Today, over a quarter of the EU's electricity production comes from nuclear plants.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, EU officials admitted that neither gas nor nuclear are renewable and the final decision is a "balanced compromise that takes into account all views" and will be able to resist a potential legal challenge.
Officials also said that an initial idea to create an amber category for both sectors outside the taxonomy framework failed to win "political traction," leading to their inclusion in the current catalogue, alongside solar and wind power.
The Commission insisted the amendment is a "living document" that will be updated according to scientific and technological developments and the labeling of gas and nuclear as sustainable will be temporary and depend on how fast renewables are deployed across the bloc.
The new test establishes disclosure and verification mechanisms to ensure the projects under the taxonomy comply with the strict conditions.
The ball is now in the court of member states and MEPs, who have up to six months to analyze the Commission's proposal and raise objections. But since the text is a delegated act, the thresholds for blocking the text become more difficult to achieve.
In the Council, at least 20 member states representing at least 65% of the EU population will need to come together to derails the plans, something that seems far-fetched given that most countries depend on either gas or nuclear (or even both) to lower CO2 emissions.
The European Parliament will have to assemble an absolute majority of 353 MEPs to block the proposal, a scenario more feasible but that could still be influenced by national interests.
Regardless of the outcome, investors will still be allowed to pour money into gas and nuclear projects if they wish to do so. The taxonomy does not ban or allow investments — it simply serves as a transparency tool to channel more money into environmentally sustainable activities.
The Commission estimates the bloc needs €350 billion in green investments every year to meet the 2030 target of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels.
A large part of this enormous amount of money, the executive says, will have to come from the private sector. — Euronews


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