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Brussels labels gas, nuclear as sustainable investments

BRUSSELS: The European Commission defied protests from green campaigners and dissent in its own ranks yesterday to give a sustainable finance label to investments in both gas and nuclear power. Opponents of gas want to discourage investment in a fossil fuel technology they say only fuels the climate change crisis, while critics of nuclear energy point to the threat posed by accidents and nuclear waste. But the EU executive, under pressure from nuclear-powered France and gas-reliant Germany, argues that both have a role to play as cleaner power sources during the transition to a net-zero carbon future.

“The end is a low-carbon future powered by renewable energy. We do not have the capacity for that yet, but we still need to act urgently with all the means at our disposal,” EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness said. “We need to move as fast as we can from the highest carbon energy sources like coal during this transition. That may mean accepting imperfect solutions. Today’s delegated act may be imperfect, but it is a real solution.”

Green activists expressed outrage. Greenpeace sustainable finance campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo said: “I’d like to report an attempted robbery, please. “Someone is trying to take billions of euro away from renewables and sink them into technologies that either do nothing to fight the climate crisis, like nuclear, or which actively make the problem worse, like fossil gas.” The debate over the bloc’s so-called “taxonomy”-its classification of “green” energy sources-had raised opposition in the European Parliament where there is an outcry over including gas and nuclear. Even within EU president Ursula von der Leyen’s commission backing was not unanimous for the decision-the 27 members had to hold a vote before making the announcement.


Carbon emissions

But McGuinness defended the decision, arguing that the plan imposes safeguards on how nuclear and gas projects are conducted under sustainable finance rules. The fight over the European Union’s classification of power sources is the latest dust-up in discussions between the member states on how to achieve a net zero-carbon economy by 2050. Brussels had high hopes that the EU would help set a global standard on determining sustainable projects and direct big flows of Wall Street money towards saving the planet. But EU member states often have widely differing energy mixes, with France, for example, proudly reliant on nuclear power-which has negligible carbon emissions once built-for its electricity needs.

Germany, meanwhile, is highly dependent on natural gas piped in from Russia. It is also in a small group of nations that believe nuclear energy is unsafe while gas could help coal-hungry economies like Poland’s to turn the page. Berlin and Paris were adamant that their chosen energy industries are fit to receive the Green label and the commission-the EU executive-was handed the politically poisonous task of reconciling the positions. To win the label, gas and nuclear projects are subject to constraints: projects must be approved by 2030 and 2045 respectively, as well as meet a long list of sector-specific criteria.


‘Gold standard’

Four more EU member states on Tuesday came out firmly against the inclusion of gas projects, arguing that the bloc’s promise to set a “gold standard” for investors on how to classify energy sources was compromised. Even with conditions, calling gas sustainable “is largely incompatible” with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, said a letter to the commission from Denmark, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands.

Opponents of nuclear energy have been just as vocal. In a rare move, Austria’s representative to the commission had threatened to vote against his colleagues when the label comes for approval. That proposal will now be subject to a possible veto by a super majority of member states or by the European Parliament, though insiders believe this is unlikely. Meanwhile, the head of the European Investment Bank, an EU institution, last month said his bank may sidestep the bloc’s taxonomy given the widespread opposition to gas and nuclear amongst Green investors. — AFP

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