Protest at EU headquarters over gas and nuclear 'greenwashing'

Activists reject proposals to make contentious energy sources eligible for green funding

Mock power plants rigged up in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. EPA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Climate protesters took their campaign against gas and nuclear power to EU headquarters on Thursday as they rallied against plans to classify the energy forms as climate-friendly.

The protesters built mock nuclear power plants outside the European Commission offices in Brussels, wrapped in Christmas decorations after the contentious plans were released over the holidays.

“Keep your dirty present, EU Commission,” said one critic of the proposals, which would allow investors to promote their funding of nuclear and gas as environmentally friendly.

Invoking the scornful words of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, the protesters laid out a banner demanding “no more blah blah blah” from European leaders. Another placard said: “Don't greenwash our future".

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the commission, defended the proposals for the so-called EU taxonomy.

She told German newspaper Die Zeit in an interview published on Thursday that nuclear and gas were needed as a stopgap while Europe races to expand its renewable energy sector.

The green badge of approval will only be available under certain conditions, she said, when energy providers have detailed plans showing how much CO2 will be released and how they will store radioactive waste.

In any case, the taxonomy is only a guideline and “no investor who rejects gas or nuclear energy has to buy a financial product that includes these energy forms,” said Ms von der Leyen.

“We won’t get to 100 per cent renewable energy by snapping our fingers, nor with wishful thinking,” she said.

Emmanuel Macron, president of nuclear-reliant France, likewise came out in favour of the proposals.

His support prompted Luisa Neubauer, a prominent German activist, to describe the taxonomy as a “scam powered by a French president campaigning to be re-elected”.

Germany, Austria and Luxembourg are among the EU governments who oppose the plans promoted by France, Poland, Hungary and others.

Austria is pushing for a legal battle to overturn the plans, although Germany has signalled it regards the prospects for this as poor. Berlin supports the inclusion of gas, which it will need to cover its energy needs as it steps away from nuclear and coal.

Gas is a fossil fuel regarded as less dirty than coal and oil, while nuclear power is virtually carbon-free, but worries activists because of the risk of an accident and the long-term waste storage that it necessitates.

Opponents of the plans do not have a majority in the 27-member European Council and may struggle to find one in the European Parliament.

Activists say the plans undermine the taxonomy’s intended purpose of making it clear whether investors are using their money as climate-consciously as they claim to be.

Some of those investors registered their own opposition on Wednesday with an open letter telling Brussels that the plans could threaten the EU’s efforts to lead the way on sustainability.

The complaint came from the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, whose 370 members include major asset managers such as BlackRock and Vanguard.

“We remain strongly opposed to any inclusion of gas within the scope of the taxonomy,” IIGCC chief executive Stephanie Pfeifer wrote in the letter.

Updated: January 13, 2022, 4:23 PM