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European Parliament backs green label for gas and nuclear

The European Parliament has agreed to the Commission’s proposal to include nuclear and gas among environmentally sustainable economic activities.

278 MEPs voted in favour of the resolution, 328 against and 33 abstained. An absolute majority of 353 MEPs was needed for Parliament to veto the proposal made by the Commission earlier in February, according to which both nuclear and gas can be taken into consideration only if they help accelerate the shift from solid or liquid fossil fuels, including coal, towards a climate-neutral future.

Basically, gas will be labelled green only if lifecycle emissions of new power plants are below 100grams CO2 equivalent (CO2e)/kilowatt-hours (kWh); or if, until 2030 and where renewables are not available at a sufficient scale, direct emissions are below 270 grams of CO2e/kWh; or, for the activity of electricity generation, their annual direct greenhouse gas emissions must not exceed an average of 550 kilograms of CO2e/kW of the facility’s capacity over 20 years.

Concerning nuclear energy, must fulfil nuclear and environmental safety requirements and ensure compliance with the do not harm principle, as proven by a report conducted by the Joint Research Centre, the Commission’s science and knowledge service.

A black day for the climate and the energy transition

It is a step forward (or backwards, depending on the point of view) since two of the European Parliament’s lead committees rejected the proposal in June.

“We need massive investment in the expansion of renewable energies, not the energies of the past,” said Bas Eickhout, Member of the European Parliament’s ENVI and ECON committees and European Parliament rapporteur for the taxonomy regulation.

Now, the Taxonomy Delegated Act will enter into force and apply as of 1 January 2023. However, the story is not over and the governments of Austria and Luxembourg have already announced that they will challenge the decision of the Commission in court.

“I deeply regret that today the European Parliament failed to object to the Delegated Act under the EU Taxonomy, allowing gas and nuclear to be part of the EU sustainable finance policy,” said Claude Turmes, Luxembourg’s Minister of Spatial Planning.

Bas Eickhout MEP defined today as a dark day for the climate and the energy transition.

“We are sending a disastrous signal to investors and the rest of the world that the EU now recognises fossil gas and nuclear as sustainable investments,” he said. “By clearing the way for this delegated act, the EU will have unreliable and greenwashed conditions for green investments in the energy sector.”

Disappointed are also members of E3G, the independent climate change think tank.

“With the ongoing war, high energy prices and increasing cost-of-living crisis, it is disappointing to see how MEPs failed to recognise the urgency to block this,” stated Jurei Yada, Programme Leader, EU Sustainable Finance at E3G. “The Delegated Act is at odds with the EU’s response to the war, with RePowerEU and is counterproductive to achieving Europe’s energy independence.” 

For Slovakia is good news for energy security

On the contrary, the Commission has welcomed today’s results. Mairead McGuinness, Commissioner in charge of Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union reminded us that investment in renewables is already prioritised in the Taxonomy and they are part of the future. For her, this proposal ensures transparency so investors will know what they are investing in.

“Today brings much-needed clarity to the EU position,” she said. “The Complementary Delegated Act is a pragmatic proposal to ensure that private investments in gas and nuclear, needed for our energy transition, meet strict criteria.”

And also welcoming are several countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

“I am glad that Romania’s constant efforts on considering gas and nuclear as part of progressive decarbonisation were reflected in the EP’s final decision,” said Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania.

Also, the prime minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger said it is good news for his country’s energy security.

“We’ve worked hard for this over the last two years,” he said. “We’ll remain on the way to climate neutrality by 2050.”

Indeed, nuclear power currently accounts for more than 50 per cent of Slovakia’s total power generation. It is only 18 per cent for Romania, but it is an important pillar of the country’s energy strategy, especially new technologies like small modular reactors after the United States committed 14 million US dollars toward a Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) study to provide the basis for the deployment of a small modular reactor (SMR) power plant in Romania.

“Romania is taking firm steps towards energy independence and becoming a net energy exporter,” said Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă.

Now, there is still time before the Delegated Act enters into force in January 2023, which is plenty of time for exacerbating divisions within the EU Member States.

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