CNN – European Union lawmakers on Wednesday voted to call natural gas and nuclear power as “green” or “sustainable” energy sources, backing a proposal by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, which has drawn criticism from scientists and environmentalists.
The new rules, if accepted by member states, could unlock billions of dollars in private investment and public subsidies for natural gas and nuclear projects.
The rules will come into force in 2023 unless 20 of the union’s 27 member states reject them, which is unlikely. Most Member States – including heavyweights such as Germany and France – have supported at least one of the two energy sources.
The European Commission has argued that natural gas – a fossil fuel mainly composed of methane, a major contributor to the climate crisis – plays a key role in the transition to renewable energy, angering climate activists and some lawmakers. . Natural gas generally emits less carbon dioxide than coal, but critics argue the focus should be on boosting renewables and supporting new gas projects will only extend the life of the fossil fuel .
Nuclear, on the other hand, is “green” in the sense that it does not directly produce carbon dioxide emissions. Arguments against it usually revolve around safety, including how to store the radioactive waste it produces. Nuclear power plants are also expensive and projects are often plagued by delays.
Bas Eickhout, a green lawmaker from the Netherlands who sits in the European Parliament, recently said he had “never seen such a strategic mistake on the part of the Commission”, and calling natural gas “sustainable” contradicts it. the European Union calls for the rest of the world to quickly decarbonize their economies.
“We are undermining all the credibility of our Green Deal,” he previously told CNN, referring to the centerpiece of EU climate legislation. “And on the gas side, I really don’t see it. I don’t see the added value.”
While the proposal came months before Russia invaded Ukraine, it gained momentum after the EU responded to the war by banning Russian energy sources such as coal and oil, on which European countries were heavily dependent.
The EU is committed to reducing global heating emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to becoming a net zero emissions economy by 2050. Net zero is where emissions are drastically reduced and those that remain are offset, whether using natural methods. such as planting trees or technology to “capture” emissions. The effectiveness of such technology is currently limited.
But climate and energy advocates say Wednesday’s decision will instead hamper Europe’s green transition.
“This will delay a real sustainable transition that we desperately need and deepen our dependence on Russian fuels,” Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in response to the vote. “The hypocrisy is striking, but unfortunately not surprising.”
Environmental groups are expected to challenge the new rules in court. Already, groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation have said they plan to sue the EU over the policy.
“Gas and nuclear are not green, and labeling them as such is blatant greenwashing. It harms the climate and future generations,” Ester Asin, director of the WWF European Policy Office, said in a statement. “We have lost this battle, but we will not give up the fight. [We] will explore all potential avenues for further action to end this greenwashing and protect the credibility of the whole EU taxonomy – and calls on Member States and MEPs to do the same.”
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