Green energies? Nuclear power and natural gas cause a stir

Green energies? Nuclear power and natural gas cause a stir
Doel power station, one of Belgium's nuclear plants. © Trougnouf/Wikimedia

As Europe considers how to deliver on its climate promises, support is growing to label nuclear power and natural gas as "green", paving the way for future invesments.

On Wednesday, the European Commission presented the Taxonomy Complementary Climate Delegated Act, establishing nuclear energy and natural gas – under strict conditions – as ripe for receiving investments in green technologies. The EU taxonomy is a system of designating economic activities as environmentally sustainable.

Nuclear energy producers will have to adhere to stringent nuclear and environmental safety requirements to be considered green. Natural gas will be considered as such when part of the transition from coal to renewable energy sources.

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Proponents argue that by labelling these energies as "green"  the continent can attract the large investments needed in order for Europe  to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

"Today's Delegated Act will accelerate the private investment we need, especially in this decade" said a statement from Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People. He insisted that the latest rules facilitate transparency so that investors make informed decisions. He denied that it could be branded "greenwashing".

Not green, red-hot madness

On the contrary, environmental groups argue that greenwashing is precisely what this taxonomy amounts to. Vital investment will pay for technologies that the taxonomy's opponents say at best do little to nothing to move Europe towards climate neutrality. At worst, they argue that these energies run contrary to the EU's climate ambitions.

"This anti-science plan represents the biggest greenwashing exercise of all time. It makes a mockery of the EU's claims to global leadership on climate and the environment," said a statement from Ariadna Rodrigo, Greenpeace EU sustainable finance campaigner.

Greenpeace activists wrap the EU summit venue in Brussels with images of giant flames. Credit: Greenpeace

Greenpeace argues that radioactive waste poses a significant threat to the environment that undermines the taxonomy framework. The Platform on Sustainable Financea group of experts offering advice to the European Commission – also expresses "deep concern about the environmental impacts that may result [from classifying natural gas and nuclear as green]."

The next steps

A supermajority of Council members – 20 states representing at least 65% of the EU's population – can still object to natural gas and nuclear energy being included in the taxonomy. It must also pass a vote in the European Parliament with Greenpeace calling on MEPs to vote this proposal down.

Heavy lobbying both for and against their inclusion in the taxonomy is to be expected in the coming months. Environmental groups also plan to vigorously fight the additions of nuclear power and natural gas.

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