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Environmental Groups Sue EU Over Green Label for Gas and Nuclear

CRISIS - Atmospheric CO2 Levels by Martina Igini Europe Apr 18th 20233 mins
Environmental Groups Sue EU Over Green Label for Gas and Nuclear

Five other environmental groups are objecting to the EU’s decision to include fossil gas and nuclear power in its taxonomy, effectively granting them a green investment label under the bloc’s sustainable finance rules.

Greenpeace and other campaign groups are taking the European Commission to the European Court of Justice on Tuesday over the bloc’s decision to label nuclear energy and natural gas as climate-friendly investments. 

The Taxonomy Delegated Act, which entered into force on January 1, was approved last July after the European Parliament voted to designate natural gas and nuclear as environmentally sustainable energy sources. 278 MEPs voted against the Commission’s proposal – falling short of the absolute majority of 353 MEPs needed to veto it. 

In a statement released in February, independent global campaigning network Greenpeace announced plans to sue the EU, following the Commission’s rejection of a formal request made by the group in September to stop the greenwashing of fossil gas and nuclear power. 

Four other environmental groups – Transport & Environment, WWF, ClientEarth, and BUND – are also objecting to the inclusion of gas in the taxonomy.

“We will fight this fake green label in court. We will study the Commission’s response, but their relentless hypocrisy about fossil fuels and nuclear power is pure greenwashing, and we can prove it,” said Greenpeace EU sustainable finance campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo. 

“The same polluters that Ursula von der Leyen wants to reward with a sustainable label are the ones responsible for many of the hardships people face today, like the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency.”

Under the newly approved EU taxonomy, new nuclear and gas-fired plants built through 2030 will be recognised as a transitional energy source as long as they are used to replace dirtier fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

The legal text also specifies that gas projects should only be financed if direct emissions are kept under a maximum cap and they switch to fully renewable energy by 2035. Specifically, only gas projects replacing coal and emitting no more than 270 grams of carbon equivalent per kilowatt-hour can get a temporary green label. Similarly, nuclear power may be funded as long as they pledge to switch to so-called accident-tolerant fuels by 2025 and adhere to certain standards for the disposal of radioactive waste

Greenpeace argues that investments in nuclear energy take a long time to become reality, thus risking delaying the phase-out of coal plants and hindering the expansion of renewable energy. The group is also contesting the threshold for carbon emissions, saying it is not compliant with the EU Climate Law and 2015 Paris Agreement, which allow no more than 100 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.

While nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases, they produce extremely toxic, radioactive waste, which poses a threat to agricultural land, freshwater sources, and wildlife, especially in the case of terrorist or military attacks or other incidents. Contrarily, natural gas does emit greenhouse gas emissions, and yet supporters claim it is less polluting than traditional fossil fuels and can thus be part of the energy transition. 

It is not the first time that the EU has faced a legal challenge over the controversial decision.

In October, Austria submitted a lawsuit to the Court of the European Union, asking for an overturn of the contentious taxonomy. The country’s minister for climate action Leonore Gewessler described the decision as “irresponsible” and “unreasonable” and said it was “misleading” to consumers and investors to label gas – a fossil fuel responsible for climate change for its greenhouse gas emissions – as “green”.

Featured image by Transparency International EU Office/Flickr

You might also like: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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