The European Parliament backed plans to label gas and nuclear power as “green”, rejecting calls from Ukraine and climate activists that the proposals are a gift to Vladimir Putin.
A senior MEP said the vote was a “dark day for the climate”, while experts said the EU had set a dangerous precedent for countries to follow.
The feud began late last year with the leak of much-anticipated details about the EU’s green investment guide, designed to help investors channel billions into the clean energy transition.
The European Commission has decided that some gas and nuclear projects can be included in the EU taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities under certain conditions.
According to the plans, gas can be classified as a sustainable investment if “the same energy capacity cannot be generated from renewable sources” and there are plans to switch to renewable energy sources or “low-carbon gases”. Nuclear energy can be called green if a project promises to tackle radioactive waste.
The plan could only be stopped by a majority of EU member states or MEPs.
With most EU governments ahead, attention turned to the European Parliament, but on Wednesday MEPs failed to secure a blocking majority. Only 282 MEPs voted in favor of an amendment against the inclusion of gas and nuclear energy, which was not enough for the 353 votes needed to overturn the decision.
Bas Eickhout, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said it was “a dark day for the climate and energy transition”.
The veteran Dutch MEP, who led parliament in intra-EU negotiations on the taxonomy regulation, said the EU is “sending a disastrous signal to investors and the rest of the world” that it recognizes fossil gas and nuclear energy as sustainable investments. . “By paving the way for this delegated act, the EU will have unreliable and greened conditions for green investment in the energy sector,” he said.
Svitlana Krakovska, a Ukrainian climate scientist and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said: “I am in shock. Russia’s war on Ukraine is a war paid for by fossil fuels that warm the climate and the European Parliament just voted to raise billions in funding for fossil gas from Russia. How on earth is that in line with Europe’s stance to protect our planet and stand side by side with Ukraine?”
Johanne Schroeten, policy advisor at the climate think tank E3G, said: “Established interests seem to have gained the upper hand. The EU has now set a dangerous precedent of low ambition for other countries and jurisdictions to follow.”
The deal came after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen promised Emmanuel Macron that France would get the green seal of approval for nuclear projects, prompting gas-consuming countries to demand a similar concession.
Campaigners are now promising legal action. WWF said it, along with its fellow NGO Client Earth, would “explore all possible avenues for further action to stop this greenwashing and protect the credibility of the entire EU taxonomy”.
Two anti-nuclear states, Austria and Luxembourg, have already announced that they will drag the commission before the European Court of Justice.
But the proposals have strong supporters. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis tweeted that he welcomed the “positive results”, adding: “I am pleased that Romania’s constant efforts to consider gas and nuclear energy as part of progressive decarbonisation were reflected in the final decision of the EP.”
The EU taxonomy became law in July 2020, but lawmakers left important details to resolve through so-called delegated acts – secondary legislation intended for technical issues.
Critics are now wondering how such highly controversial plans can be passed through a form of legislation with few hurdles and less scrutiny.
Activists’ fears were fueled when Russia’s Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov said the EU’s green taxonomy presented “a range of opportunities”. In a speech on the Energy Intelligence website before his country’s invasion of Ukraine, he said the inclusion of natural gas in the green taxonomy was proof that the EU had realized it had made “a small mistake” in the green taxonomy. transition.
Since the invasion, the EU’s executive has drawn up plans to phase out Russian gas, but member states have not set a deadline to stop gas imports, unlike Russian oil and coal.
Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun tweeted: “Putin is happily rubbing his hands today”, adding that those MEPs who voted or abstained from including gas and nuclear energy in the green taxonomy, the Russian president “said huge gifts”. She said: “I thank the brave 278 MEPs who have raised their objection. It wasn’t enough, but we won’t stop fighting.”