EU taxonomy: No greenwashing of activities harmful to the environment

The introduction of taxonomy is a great success for us Greens, forward-looking businesses and civil society forces who have been working on it for years. But the credibility of the taxonomy is crucial for its success. And fossil gas and nuclear power are neither ecologically or economically sustainable nor climate friendly sources of energy.

Shortly before the new year 2022 – and in the midst of Parliament’s winter recess, the European Commission presented a proposal that sounds all alarm bells and poses a fatal sign for climate protection in the European Union in contradiction with the Green Deal. .

The European Commission proposed declaring electricity production from nuclear energy and fossil natural gas as sustainable economic activities according to the EU taxonomy, which was supposed to be the gold standard for determining which activities are sustainable and which are not. This gold standard should encourage investors to redirect public and above all private capital towards sustainable projects.

If the current proposal is adopted, large institutional investors but also small private investors who invest in so-called ‘taxonomy-aligned’ products, for example investment funds, could potentially promote and support wind energy as much as wind power. ‘nuclear energy.

It also means that subsidies and subsidies, i.e. taxpayer money, could be used to support and even expand these inherently unsustainable economic activities.

The main objective of taxonomy is often confused in public debate with the short- and medium-term dependence of certain Member States on nuclear and natural gas capacities to reduce CO2 emissions.

The fact that the production of electricity from natural gas is less CO2 intensive than coal and that

the production of electricity by nuclear fission has a relatively low carbon footprint does not automatically make these activities sustainable. In addition, methane often escapes during extraction and transportation, a climate gas that is not as durable as CO₂, but has a much stronger effect.

As a reminder: the original idea of ​​taxonomy is that to be recognized as sustainable, an economic activity must contribute to one of the six environmental objectives: climate change mitigation, adaptation to climate change, sustainable use and protection of water. and marine resources, transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention and control, protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems. However, the respective economic activity must not only contribute to one goal, but in addition to that, cannot harm any of the other 5 goals. This is called the “Do No Harm” principle (DNSH).

The most striking negative example in this regard is nuclear energy. While it is true that the production of electricity from this source produces few carbon emissions, at the same time it produces one of the most polluting substances, namely radioactive waste, thus undermining the 5th environmental objective. “Pollution prevention”. Calling nuclear energy sustainable is simply wrong, because its high-risk technology has long-term effects on the environment. Highly radioactive nuclear waste will pollute for centuries.

The now proposed requirement that for every new nuclear power project there must be a “plan” for how to dispose of high-level radioactive waste by 2050 only underscores the fact that it does not exist. There are no good long term solutions to this problem. Notably, this very low requirement is even relaxed for projects in existing nuclear power plants that are licensed before 2025. Thus, it is clear that the inclusion of nuclear energy violates the fundamental principle of the EU taxonomy regulation.

In addition, we have the case of natural gas. In the current Commission proposal, new fossil gas-fired installations emitting less than 270g CO2 per MWh could be qualified as sustainable. Although they are significantly less CO2 intensive than coal, they are still up to 10 times more CO2 intensive than renewable energies, such as wind, solar or hydroelectricity. Heavy investments in such infrastructure can lead to foreclosure effects and be seen as a direct opposition to the EU’s climate neutrality goals.

The 27 Member States must now give their opinion on the Commission proposal until 12 January. To oppose the corresponding proposal, a “qualified majority” is needed in the Council.

So far, Member States have reacted very differently. Parts of the new German government have criticized the plans of the European Commission. Austria has even announced that it is suing the Commission, possibly referring to the DNSH principle and to three categories of taxonomy, while other countries such as France, Poland and Romania, among others, have pushed for the labeling of the nuclear energy as a green investment in taxonomy.

In such circumstances, the European Parliament might be the best hope to oppose this current Commission proposal. Instead of the European Commission plans to promote additional outdated energies, the EU should devote all its efforts to the accelerated expansion of renewable energies, energy storage and energy efficiency solutions to implement the Green Deal.

Instead of making room for greenwashing public and private investments in unsustainable energy sources, the EU should work for innovative and green technologies leading to a climate neutral and carbon-free European economy by 2050 at the latest. .

Here we have an open question: A true European gold standard for sustainable investments is not only important for realizing our own climate ambitions, but also for setting an example on the world stage.

If, in the coming years, a significant portion of global capital is invested in genuinely sustainable economic activities, the chances of achieving at least the Paris Climate objectives would be considerably improved. We should not lose this chance.

The EU has the unique opportunity to take the lead in protecting the climate and the environment. We must find a compromise which respects the sovereignty of the Member States for their energy mix without harming the credibility of the taxonomy.

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