EU vote knocks 'green' gas and nuclear plans off course

MEPs vote against including energy sources on list of climate-friendly investments

Environmental campaigners across Europe were infuriated by the pro-nuclear position taken by France and other EU countries. Reuters
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The EU’s plan to designate gas and nuclear power as climate-friendly was dealt a blow on Tuesday as members of the European Parliament voted against the move.

Members of two committees objected in a 76-62 vote to the inclusion of gas and nuclear on what is meant to be the EU’s definitive guide to green investments.

The European Commission made the proposal in February, setting aside objections from countries such as Germany and arguing that gas and nuclear were transition fuels on the journey to clean power.

But the proposal infuriated climate campaigners, who said it was a licence for investors to inflate their green credentials, and was voted down by a coalition of environmentalist MEPs and sceptics from other parties.

“We need massive investment in the expansion of renewable energies, not the energies of the past,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch GreenLeft MEP and negotiator from the parliament’s ecologist bloc.

The EU’s push for green investments “must not be used to finance energies that harm the environment and climate and pose unmanageable risks”, he said.

Nuclear power divides European countries between those such as France who celebrate its virtually non-existent carbon emissions and others, such as Germany, who object to radioactive waste and fear a potential ecological catastrophe.

The issue of gas, meanwhile, has taken on a greater sensitivity since the commission’s proposal in January, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a decision to buy from alternative suppliers.

The list of green activities, formally the EU Taxonomy, would not dictate the energy mix of the bloc’s 27 countries but would give a badge of approval to investors who order from the EU’s brochure.

Leading figures in the financial world promised at last year’s Cop26 summit to redirect their money towards green technology and away from damaging investments such as coal plants.

Climate activists say the taxonomy is a licence for companies to greenwash, meaning to mislead about their green credentials. EPA

A spokesman for the commission said it took note of the result and would await a vote of the full parliament in July, which could force a complete rethink if the taxonomy is rejected again.

“Climate neutrality is still our aim, and indeed obligation,” the spokesman said. “We are committed to using all available tools to start moving away from carbon-intensive energy sources.”

The outcome of that vote is uncertain but Tuesday’s result shows there is no clear consensus among the parliament’s political blocs.

The centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group in the parliament, is publicly in favour but some individual members have rejected the idea. The main green and left groups oppose the taxonomy.

The EU’s member states could also veto the proposal but only with a supermajority that does not appear likely. Austria and Luxembourg have said they would support legal action against the taxonomy.

Another plank of the EU's climate agenda, a proposed expansion of a carbon permit scheme to cover transport and commercial buildings, also suffered a setback in votes by MEPs last week.

Updated: June 14, 2022, 11:58 AM
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