The European Parliament to the dismay of green and climate groups has rejected a motion to oppose the inclusion of nuclear power and fossil gas as environmentally sustainable economic activities under certain conditions, opening the way for easier access to financing for the technologies.
A majority of 328 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted against a resolution to oppose the inclusion of nuclear and gas in the so-called EU taxonomy as proposed by the European Commission earlier this year, while 278 MEPs voted in favour, and 33 abstained.
Unless 20 EU member states representing 65% of the economic bloc’s population reject the taxonomy, or it is thrown out by the European Court of Justice, it will enter into force next year.
“The European Parliament just voted to label fossil gas as 'green' energy. This will delay a desperately needed real sustainable transition and deepen our dependency on Russian fuels,” Swedish climate icon Greta Thunberg tweeted.
“The hypocrisy is striking, but unfortunately not surprising.”
The taxonomy proposal enjoys the backing by France, Finland and several Eastern European EU states that want to build or expand atomic power, but the inclusion of nuclear has been strongly opposed by Germany, Austria, Spain and Luxembourg, which consider it greenwashing and fear it will lead to the massive channelling of public funds into outdated technologies.
Germany, however, had pushed for the inclusion of fossil gas into the mechanism as a 'bridge technology' as the country needs to keep the lights on as it is exiting nuclear and coal simultaneously. Its massive dependency on Russian gas imports in recent months has made clear, though, that Berlin's strategy hitherto has been a grave mistake.
While the real impact of the taxonomy on finance flows is unclear, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) warned including gas and nuclear on the EU’s list of environmentally sustainable activities sets a dangerous precedent and shows how politicians in Europe are held hostage by the vested interests of the incumbent gas and nuclear industries.
“It extinguishes any hope that the EU taxonomy will be a global gold standard or even a meaningful benchmark that investors can look to for guidance,” IEEFA director for energy finance studies, Arjun Flora, said.
“The decision fails to protect the European investor community and consumers alike from the financial risks inherent in polluting fossil gas or toxic nuclear projects.
“The EU will now be more vulnerable to greenwashing and the proliferation of expensive stranded LNG terminals, pipelines and nuclear waste – costs which will ultimately be borne by taxpayers for generations to come.”
Austrian climate minister Leonore Gewessler according to local media reports has said her country has already prepared action for annulment at the European Court of Justice against the inclusion of nuclear in the EU taxonomy.
“It is neither credible, ambitious nor knowledge-based, endangers our future and is more than irresponsible,” Gewesseler is quoted as saying by the Puls 24 news website.
Luxembourg has earlier said it also plans to take legal action against the taxonomy proposal.
Part of the energy sector applauded the EU parliament's decision, however.
Finnish utility Fortum, which operates nuclear power in Finland and owns gas-heavy German utility Uniper, said the vote "recognises the vital contribution of CO2-free nuclear power in the EU decarbonisation efforts."
"We also see that the taxonomy framework as approved today, can play an important role in facilitating the transition from fossil to clean gases, and in developing the European hydrogen economy," Fortum said in a statement.