Set to enter into force on 1 January 2023, the Taxonomy Delegated Act will allow nuclear and natural gas-fired power plants to be marketed as green investments on financial markets.

On Wednesday, the EU Parliament voted to designate natural gas and nuclear as environmentally sustainable energy sources. 278 MEPs voted against giving green labels to nuclear and gas – falling short of the absolute majority of 353 MEPs needed to veto the Commission’s proposal. 

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.

Moreover, the legal text 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. Similarly, nuclear power may be funded as long as it they pledge to switch to so-called accident-tolerant fuels by 2025 and adhere to certain standards for the disposal of radioactive waste.

The vote came after months of heated debate over a draft presented by the EU’s executive branch in January to include nuclear and gas in a system that was intended to influence direct investment in clean energy for the next decade and help reach net-zero by 2050

In a bid to compromise between pro-nuclear French and pro-gas German contingents in Brussels, the Commission’s proposal coupled gas and nuclear together in one legal act, sparking outrage among some MEPs who had no choice but to vote for both or none.

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. On the contrary, natural gas does emit greenhouse gas emissions, however, supporters claim it is less polluting than traditional fossil fuels and can thus be part of the energy transition.

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Ursula von der Leyen – president of the European Commission – defended the new EU taxonomy, saying she was “deeply convinced” it would help the bloc’s transition to clean energy.

Less than two weeks ago, EU countries agreed on tougher climate measures, including a ban on the sale of combustion engines by 2035 in a major step forward towards achieving the goals set by the European Green Deal. 

Activists and environmental organisations such as Greenpeace strongly opposed Wednesday’s decision, saying the new law discredits EU efforts to establish itself as a global leader on climate policy and only risks deepening Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

“We will fight this in the courts. The EU Commission’s shameful backroom dealing on behalf of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries won’t help them there,” Ariadna Rodrigo – Greenpeace Europe’s sustainable finance campaigner – told the Financial Times on Thursday.

Unless 20 out of 27 member states decide to oppose the move, the Taxonomy Delegated Act is set to enter into force on 1 January 2023.

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