The Commission proposes a delegated act on climate to accelerate decarbonisation.
The EU taxonomy aims to help improve monetary flows to environmentally sustainable economic activities across the European Union. Enabling investors to redirect private investment towards more sustainable technologies and businesses will be key to making Europe climate-neutral by 2050. The Taxonomy Regulation provides that these economic activities must comply with the selection criteria set out in the delegated acts adopted by the Commission. The EU Delegated Act on climate taxonomy sets out technical screening criteria for economic activities that have the potential to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation in most sectors without causing any significant harm to any other relevant environmental objective.
On 1st January, the European Commission announced the start of discussions with the Member States’ Expert Group and the Platform for Sustainable Finance on the part of the new green investment taxonomy concerning nuclear energy and natural gas. The decision to make these new forms of energy sustainable has sparked protests from anti-nuclear environmental organisations and the Member States.
The system aims to make these investments more attractive to private capital and thus stop the phenomenon of greenwashing. The plants will have to meet certain conditions: new nuclear power stations will not be approved beyond 2045 and will have to have a plan for the safe disposal of waste, while gas plants will have to replace more polluting plants and cannot be authorized after 2030. By 2035 they will also have to be converted to be powered by hydrogen. According to Belgian De Standaard, the proposal aims to find a compromise between the interests of European countries, in particular France, which does not want to give up the nuclear power plants on which most of its electricity production depends, and Germany, which has invested in natural gas to compensate for the effects of abandoning nuclear power. In contrast, Austria and Luxembourg have threatened to sue the Commission for adding gas and nuclear to the EU’s green investment list. In addition, the proposal seems aimed at bypassing the resistance of Eastern European countries, which want to focus on nuclear energy and gas to end their dependence on coal.
The production of gas and nuclear energy would be defined as green insofar as a transitional activity, that is not completely sustainable, but has emissions below the industry average and does not block Europe in polluting activities during the transition to the exclusive use of renewable energy. The controversy between the Member States seems to concern mainly nuclear power, while the inclusion in the taxonomy of natural gas seems to have found the agreement of the States. Natural gas emits about half of coal’s CO2 emissions when it is burned in power plants, but gas infrastructures can present problems with methane leaks. Indeed, EU expert advisers had recommended that gas-fired installations should not be labelled as green investments unless they complied with a lower emission limit of 100 g CO2/kWh.
The legislative proposal
On 2nd February, the European Commission presented a complementary ‘Climate’ delegated act of the taxonomy. The act under consideration lays down clear and strict conditions to which certain nuclear and gas activities may be added as transitional activities. The changes compared to the draft of 31 December last year concern the removal of intermediate targets, for the conversions of natural gas plants to decarbonized gases, and the part on transparency for investors, so that they are informed if financial products are in any way related to gas and nuclear. The first modification was requested by Germany. The second is from the Platform for Sustainable Finance. During the press conference for the presentation of the delegated act, Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President of the Commission, recalled the need to act immediately to achieve the goal of climate neutrality. Together with Mairead McGuinness, Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, he also declared himself satisfied with the new transparency and information requirements that have been added to the draft text, which will help combat greenwashing.
Environmental organisations, including the European Climate Foundation and WWF, take the opposite view. According to Laurence Tubiana, Europe is undermining its climate leadership and lowering standards in the EU and beyond. Labelling gas as green is equivalent to greenwashing. This compromise undermines the EU’s ambitions for the Taxonomy. WWF called on the European Parliament to reject the proposal, remarking it is the result of an alliance between pro-nuclear and pro-gas EU Member States led by France. Sebastien Godinot, Senior Economist at WWF European Policy Office added that this Act is a fraud, which must be rejected to protect the credibility of the whole EU Taxonomy.
The text will be formally adopted as soon as it is translated into all EU languages. After that, the complementary delegated act will be formally transmitted to the co-legislators for scrutiny. The European Parliament and the Council will have four months to examine the document and raise any objections. Both institutions may request an extension of the monitoring period by two months. The Council will have the right to raise objections by an enhanced qualified majority, which means that at least 72% of Member States – namely at least 20 the Member States – representing at least 65% of the EU population are needed. Parliament may raise objections if the text receives a negative vote from a majority of its members in the plenary, i.e., at least 353 Members. Once the scrutiny period has ended and if none of the co-legislators raises objections, the complementary delegated act will enter into force and will apply from 1st January 2023.
 Regulation (EU) 2020/852 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment, and amending Regulation (EU) 2019/2088
 Lettig D., Green taxonomy, the criteria for considering gas and nuclear sustainable divide the Member States, EURACTIV, 3 January 2022.
 International Gas and nuclear resist, n. 1442, p. 25.
 Commission European, Announcement press IP/22/711, 2 February 2022.
 Frédéric Simon, EU puts green label for nuclear and gas officially on the table, Euractiv, 2 February 2022.
Foto copertina: Final EU Taxonomy report