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EU nations make last-ditch bid to stop green label for gas

EU nations make last-ditch bid to stop green label for gas

2 min. 01.02.2022 From our online archive
Europe’s energy shortages have underscored the challenges of phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear power
The European Commission building located in Brussels, Belgium
The European Commission building located in Brussels, Belgium
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Four countries asked the European Union to reverse a plan to make some natural gas projects eligible for its coveted green label in a last-minute plea, highlighting divisions about how to manage the energy transition.

In a letter sent to the European Commission, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark argued there’s a lack of scientific evidence to include gas in the so-called taxonomy. The nations asked the bloc’s executive arm to reconsider the plan just a day before it’s expected to be adopted following consultations with experts and member states.

Countries around the world are looking to the EU for clues on how to manage the green transition. But with an unprecedented energy crisis rippling across the continent, governments are more willing to consider gas and nuclear as key to keep the lights on, a move criticized by environmental groups. South Korea has recently come under fire for including gas in its taxonomy.

“We call upon the European Commission to not include any fossil gas activities as sustainable in the current Taxonomy, as long as these activities are not subject to the same standards as other energy technologies,” energy ministers from the four countries wrote in the letter to Financial Markets Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. 

Europe’s energy shortages have underscored the challenges of phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear power, and relying on intermittent renewable supplies before batteries or other forms of storing electricity become readily available. Gas is also seen as a way of helping wean countries poorer EU countries like Poland off coal, which pollutes much more.

The objections are unlikely to derail the Commission’s plan to provide some gas and nuclear projects a green label so long as they are approved by 2030 and 2045 respectively, and adhere to other emissions and transition criteria, such as replacing coal-fired power stations. Yet, the latest bout of criticism to the draft proposal, expected to be unveiled Wednesday, once again puts the bloc’s ambition to set the “gold standard” for environmental finance in doubt.

Once adopted, member states and the European parliament, are given a chance to reject the proposals, but the bar to do so is high. At least 20 of the EU’s 27 member states -- representing no less than 65% of the bloc’s population -- would need to unite against the plan for it to fail. Equally, a majority in Parliament could also veto the plans, though it’s unlikely that enough lawmakers will vote against it.

Last week, the Platform on Sustainable Finance, one of two groups consulted by the Commission, slammed the plans on gas saying that they could undermine the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050. How the region would deal with the possible environmental impacts from nuclear waste was also unclear, it said. A growing body of investors and banks, including the European Investment Bank, have said they will most likely shun the technologies in portfolios.

“We would like to point out that the 1.5 degree objective and the importance of avoiding lock-in of assets incompatible with the achievement of climate neutrality are enshrined in the Taxonomy Regulation,” the ministers wrote. “The integrity and ambition of the Taxonomy should not be compromised.”

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