European lawmakers hold a crucial brake lever to prevent the energy transition from being derailed. All eyes are on the European Parliament’s votes in July, where an absolute majority in the plenary could reject the proposal to include fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU list of green investments.
Europe is at a crucial turning point to reverse decades of mistakes and bad energy policies. Are we going to retrace the same steps that led us to this critical bottleneck?
It is clearer than ever that the way forward lies in accelerating the shift to energy sources that are clean, affordable, sustainable and local. The sooner we switch from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency measures, the sooner we reduce our energy bills and carbon emissions. Moreover, each euro that does not get poured into the Kremlin’s pockets or the fossil industry abroad can be invested in creating more energy independence and green jobs here.
The exit from the energy labyrinth is in front of us and we cannot keep turning corners as the climate crisis worsens, the gas prices soar and a war fuelled by EU fossil fuel purchases continues to devastate Ukraine.
A spoke in the Green Deal’s wheels
European leaders acknowledge that now is the time to step on the energy transition accelerator.
Luckily, the European Green Deal provides the right legislative framework to drive this change, while the recovery funds offer unprecedented financial support for the Member States to undertake a deep transformation. Furthermore, the recently unveiled REPowerEU plan is gearing up the transition toward clean energy sources to end the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
The political backdrop could not be more favourable for Europe to become the global frontrunner in the energy transition. Yet not all that glitters is green on the EU policy agenda.
Despite all the good proposals to boost renewables, the EU is still leaving the door open to finance fossil fuels and is reluctant to call for a phase-out date. Even as the disastrous consequences of our dependence on gas and oil are becoming more and more evident.
But if the European Commission has given an outrageous concession to the fossil and nuclear lobbies this year, it’s that of labelling their activities as sustainable. Through the back door and to the outcry of lawmakers, investors, and environmentalists, Brussels tabled a proposal for a Complementary Delegated Act to include fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU Taxonomy of Sustainable Investments.
Billions of euros are at risk of being diverted from solar, wind and heat pumps to fossil fuel infrastructure and everlasting nuclear waste if this proposal gets approved. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has already gathered a list of science-based arguments to prove that any investment in gas or nuclear infrastructure today would be far from being harmless, cost-effective or temporary, as the Commission suggests. The EEB also warned that nuclear power generation is not compatible with the Do No Significant Harm principle for the circular economy and therefore cannot be labelled as a sustainable investment, as it had also been clearly pointed out by the Commission’s own expert group.
Since this proposal came to light, the war in Ukraine and the spiralling inflation in Europe due to gas prices have only made it look more and more reckless. How can the EU get rid of the gas trap by declaring it green? Will EU governments tackle the current energy price spike by investing in nuclear power plants that take 15 years to build?
Our Paris Agreement Compatible energy scenario proves that the EU can reach a 100% renewable-based energy system by 2040 without using fossil gas as a “bridge fuel” and by closing most nuclear plants by 2040. This is not only technically feasible but our only way to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the middle of this century.
Now it is the turn of the European Parliament to decide whether the Commission’s proposal to classify gas and nuclear as green investments is coherent with the current geopolitical context and the climate crisis.
The European Parliament hold the only set of keys to close the green cash floodgates to the nuclear and gas industry.
A strong first signal could be sent by the Environmental (ENVI) and Economic (ECON) Committees of the European Parliament on 14 June. A simple majority of MEPs would be enough to veto the Commission’s proposal in the Parliament Committees. Nevertheless, the final decision will be left to the plenary session in July, where an absolute majority – at least 353 MEPs – will be needed to reject the Delegated Act. If an MEP does not show up or abstains in this final vote, that would be equal to a vote in support of including gas and nuclear in the EU Taxonomy. The mobilisation of the main political groups will be therefore decisive to bring down this proposal.
From losing the trust of investors to the risk of displacing much-needed renewable projects, the list of arguments for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to vote against in the plenary is long. But there is one reason that concerns the European Parliament in particular; which is that their elected members have been sidelined from the taxonomy discussions.
The Delegated Act has been written by von der Leyen’s cabinet under intense pressure from gas lobbies and a coalition of few pro-nuclear Member states led by France, behind closed doors. The European Parliament was completely excluded from these discussions and is now being asked to rubber-stamp the agreement between Commission and Council.
Now is the time for MEPs to speak out on the plan to greenwash investments in gas infrastructure and nuclear plants. The EEB, together with other European NGOs, has set up a call to action to tell MEPs that citizens want to vote down this greenwashed plan before it’s too late.
Stop wasting green money
Greenwashing of climate expenditure represents a serious issue for the EU, and taxonomy was meant to be the science-based tool to prevent it.
This week the European Court of Auditors revealed that the €216 billion reported by the EU in climate spending for the 2014-2020 period was overstated by €72 billion, which means that at least one-third of the money reported didn’t contribute to the EU climate goals. The misuse of climate funds became a common practice in several member states and reveals that the green transition is not moving at the declared speed.
Succumbing to the claims of some member states and lobbies to include gas and nuclear in the list of sustainable investments will only worsen this worrying trend. Currently, the European Investment Bank has committed to stop investing in fossil gas while the global green bond market excludes both gas and nuclear from its criteria. The proposed EU taxonomy would certainly represent a rollback of the existing consensus on what constitutes a sustainable investment.
If MEPs fail to vote it down, the Delegated Act will enter into force, opening the door to massive investments in long-lasting polluting projects at the expense of renewables. Can the European Union afford to choose the wrong path for its energy system again?