The European Parliament takes the first steps to reject that investments in nuclear and gas are considered green

The European Parliament takes the first steps to reject that investments in nuclear and gas are considered green. This is the case after the joint vote this Tuesday of the parliamentary committees for the Economy and the Environment, which have rejected the decision of the European Commission last February to label as green investments in nuclear energy and gas – the so-called sustainable investment taxonomy – . The objection, presented by the progressive groups in the Chamber, has received 76 votes in favor, 62 against and 4 abstentions. The objection will be voted on in the July plenary session.

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#Taxonomy

MEPs in @EP_Environment & @EP_Economics object to inclusion of nuclear & gas in list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.

If confirmed by absolute majority in #EPlenary vote 4-7 July, Commission's proposal falls.

press release⤵️https://t.co/jZIcqHYa8M pic.twitter.com/vHjhLlBlov

— ENVI Committee Press (@EP_Environment) June 14, 2022

The Community Executive established that this green label be for some investments, temporarily, with some conditions. It is not that Brussels asked to build more nuclear power plants either. But it was still a controversial decision executed through a delegated act –instead of a legislative process–. The delegated act is intended to help channel billions of euros of private sector investment into nuclear power and gas instead of renewables – but also instead of coal. And it can be knocked down in the European Parliament in the next plenary session in July (if 353 MEPs vote against it, and in principle Social Democrats, Greens and the Left have already shown their opposition) and if it is rejected by at least 20 countries representing at least 65 % of the EU population.

The role of nuclear energy and natural gas is an issue that generates great division among the 27, with France, for example, leading the group in favor of nuclear power, and Germany, on the contrary, among the biggest supporters of endorsing gas natural. But Brussels understands that its inclusion can help “move investments from coal and help the energy transition, we have to address the green transition and use the tools that help us. These two energies can serve as a bridge to renewable energies. It is a pragmatic approach”.

In this way, the European Commission aligns itself with a politically acceptable position for the majority of the Member States instead of pushing them towards something more in line with the climate crisis. “It is about fleeing coal”, says the Commissioner for Financial Services, Mairead McGuinness: “Renewables are already included in the taxonomy, now we establish to what extent gas and nuclear can contribute, with limits, to the transition, with emission limits, we want to encourage change”.

“This will be done for a while, as transitory activities. Gas and nuclear are neither neutral nor green per se, but they allow the transition”, they say in the Community Executive: “The taxonomy is not an instrument of energy policy, it is the Member States that must choose their energy mix”. The taxonomy, in effect, is a kind of labelling, a series of criteria that indicate to investors which investment is green and which is not.

The idea is to guide private investment, and that investments in gas be considered green if it comes from renewable energies or has low emissions, until 2035. In the case of nuclear power –what more than emitting polluting gases, what it does, if there is no accident, it is generating radioactive waste for 300 years–, the deadline is 2040 for current plants and 2045 for third generation reactors. Small modular reactors, by contrast, do not have any time restrictions. And greater guarantees are required for the disposal of waste.

And then there are the countries that defend that neither nuclear nor gas can have a green label. For example, Spain, Denmark, Luxembourg and Austria released a letter a few days ago in which they rejected that these two energy sources are at the same level as renewable energies in the Brussels classification. Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have also urged the European Union not to label gas-fired power projects as green investments.

The underlying debate is how fuels should contribute to Europe's change towards clean energy. Hence, the EU is trying to define an EU “taxonomy of sustainable finance”, a guideline with the aim of establishing a standard to guide private investment towards activities that meet the objectives of tackling climate change.

Some states, including Poland and the Czech Republic, see gas and nuclear power as crucial in moving countries away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. And they cite concerns about the safe disposal of nuclear waste and say it would not be credible to label the gas, a fossil fuel, as green.

Gas produces about half the CO2 emissions of coal when burned in power plants, but gas infrastructure is also associated with emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

In this context, the report prepared by the Sustainable Finance Platform, which advises Brussels on this matter, advises against adopting the approach of the community authorities in relation to nuclear and gas. They doubt that the criteria it contains can "work in practice" and are "deeply concerned" about its impact on the environment.

Keys to the Brussels proposal

In the European Commission's proposal, gas investments receive a green label if the construction permit for a gas plant is issued before the end of 2030 and if it is converted to a clean form of gas, such as hydrogen, by 2035. In addition, there is scope for polluting power plants to use to obtain a green label.

In the Commission's proposal, both the construction of new nuclear power plants and the operation of existing plants are qualified as sustainable. For nuclear energy, the condition for obtaining a green label is the availability of funds for the storage of nuclear waste and the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant. The European Commission demands a definitive solution for the permanent storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste by 2050.

What gas-related activities are included? “Electricity generation from fossil gas fuels; high-efficiency cogeneration of heat/cold and energy from gas fossil fuels; the production of heat/cold from fossil gas fuels in an efficient heating and cooling system”, says the Commission.

“Each gas-related activity must meet specific emission thresholds, must replace an existing coal-fired facility that cannot be replaced by renewables, must achieve certain targets in terms of emission reductions, and fully switch to renewable or low-carbon gases. carbon before 2035”, maintains Brussels.

Each gas-related activity must meet any of the following emission thresholds, Brussels maintains: “Life cycle emissions must be below 100 gCO2e/kWh. Or until 2030 (date of approval of the construction permit), and when renewable energies are not available on a sufficient scale; direct emissions are below 270gCO2e/kWh; or, for the electricity generation activity, its annual direct emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed an average of 550kgCO2e/kW of the facility's capacity over 20 years. In this case, the activity must meet a set of cumulative conditions, such as replacing a facility that uses solid or liquid fossil fuels; that the activity ensures a complete switch to renewable or low-carbon gases before 2035; and that periodic independent verification of compliance with the criteria is carried out”.

And what nuclear-related activities are included? “Advanced closed fuel cycle technologies (Generation IV) to encourage research and innovation of future technologies in terms of safety standards and waste minimization (without sunset clause); new nuclear power plant projects for power generation, which will use the best available existing technologies (Generation III+), will be recognized until 2045 (date of approval of the construction permit); modifications and improvements to existing nuclear facilities for the purpose of extending their useful life will be recognized until 2040 (date of approval by the competent authority)”.

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