This is not really a surprise, apart from its date and time of publication: December 31, shortly before midnight … As it seemed acquired for weeks, Brussels unveiled just before the end of 2021 its green labeling project which aims to facilitate the financing conditions of installations contributing to the fight against climate change.
Unsurprisingly, the Commission spares the goat and the cabbage by proposing to include “Certain gas and nuclear activities” in its “green taxonomy”, which sets the criteria for classifying as “Sustainable” investments in energy transition. The project, which aims to direct private investments towards activities contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases in the production of electricity, is in line with the EU’s carbon neutrality objective by 2050.
Green finance: all you need to know about the European “green taxonomy”
France, which wants to revive its nuclear industry – a stable and carbon-free source of electricity – and countries of Central Europe, such as Poland or the Czech Republic, which must replace their highly polluting coal-fired power stations, called for such a text. Germany argued for its part in favor of gas, intended to replace its coal-fired power stations. Being part of this classification allows a reduction in financing costs, which is crucial for the projects concerned and the States wishing to support them.
Criticisms of environmentalists
Environmentalists oppose the recognition of gas power stations (which emit CO2) and nuclear power, due to the production of radioactive waste. And a small group of countries including Austria and Luxembourg, led by Germany, battled to exclude the atom.
The Commission’s plan to include gas and nuclear in the taxonomy is ” a mistake “, reacted the new German Minister for the Environment, Steffi Lemke (ecologist), to the media group Funke. Nuclear technology “Which can lead to devastating environmental disasters – in serious accidents – and (…) leaves behind large amounts of highly radioactive and hazardous waste, cannot be sustainable”, she said.
A nuanced response
But both pro-gas and pro-nuclear argue that renewable energies (wind, solar, etc.), already labeled by the Commission, suffer from intermittent production and will not, on their own, meet electricity needs.
In recent weeks, Brussels’ position seemed to point in the direction of a nuanced response. In an interview with La Croix, the case of the number two of the Commission, of which he is the “environmental man”, the Dutchman Frans Timmermans admitted that the Europeans would have “Need for gas and nuclear in the transition”, while calling on the Twenty-Seven to give pride of place to renewable energies.
Frans Timmermans: “Nuclear is ‘zero emission’, but it is not green for all that”
Brussels sets conditions
The Brussels proposal, consulted by AFP, sets conditions for the inclusion of nuclear and gas, in particular a time limit. For the construction of new atomic power plants, projects will have to have obtained a building permit before 2045 – which is compatible with the French timetable. Regarding the work to extend the life of existing power plants, they must have been authorized before 2040. Guarantees in terms of waste treatment and dismantling of nuclear installations at the end of their life are also required.
Regarding gas, qualified as “Source of transitional energy”, the investments will be recognized “Sustainable” for power plants emitting little CO2. The Commission has set drastic thresholds: less than 100 g of CO2 per kWh, a threshold unattainable with current technologies according to experts. However, a transition period is planned: the power stations obtaining their building permit before December 31, 2030, will see this threshold raised to 270 g of CO2 per kWh on the condition of replacing existing infrastructures that are much more polluting and meet a series of criteria.
Member States and experts consulted by the Commission now have around two weeks to request changes to this document. The publication of the final text is expected in mid-January. Then, for a period of four months, the European Parliament will have the possibility of rejecting it by a simple majority vote. The European Council could theoretically also oppose it, but it would need to bring together 20 Member States, which seems out of reach.