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Taxonomy: 12 NGOs launch legal challenge against EU's bid to label nuclear and gas as green

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By Alice Tidey
Climate activists demonstrate outside the European Parliament, July 5, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Climate activists demonstrate outside the European Parliament, July 5, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

A dozen environmental NGOs on Monday launched a legal challenge to the European Union's decision to label gas and nuclear investments as green. 

Eight Greenpeace organisations as well as ClientEarth, WWF’s European Policy Office, Transport & Environment (T&E), and BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) are taking part in the legal action.

They argue that the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the EU Taxonomy -- a planned EU classification to give the financial sector clarity on which economic activities can be considered sustainable backed by MEPs in early July -- violates the taxonomy regulation itself as well as the European Climate Law and the bloc's obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The Commission will have 16 weeks — extendable to 22 weeks — to answer the NGOs' concerns and if the reply is found lacking, the matter will be sent to the European Court of Justice.

In a statement to Euronews, a spokesperson said that the Commission will reply to the request for review "in due course."

They added that the taxonomy regulation empowers them to establish "technical criteria" for which activities contribute to mitigating climate change.

'Gas is creating energy insecurity'

Yet activists decry the inclusion of gas and nuclear as a political decision when the taxonomy regulation is meant to be science-based.

"We have been talking to many financial institutions and more or less all of them told us what these are political criteria. There is no mystery about this. There was the involvement or the interference of President Macron, of the German government," Sebastien Godinot, an economist at the WWF European Police Office, told Euronews. 

"So it was this was a political compromise," he added. "It is not based on robust technical, scientific criteria."

That's because gas is a fossil fuel -- exploration and extraction activities to secure it are carbon emissions-intensive, as is its use. Activists also point to reports released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which state that new oil and gas extraction projects should not be commenced if global warming is to be kept within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

Critics of the inclusion of nuclear meanwhile criticise the lack of clear plans to dispose of nuclear waste safely and without environmental impact. 

Beyond the environmental impact of continued fossil fuel use, NGOs also now point to the fact that gas is at the heart of the continent's energy crisis, precipitated by Russia's war in Ukraine and its decision to drastically reduce gas supplies to Europe to retaliate against sanctions. 

"Right now with the gas price crisis and the Ukraine war from Russia, gas is creating energy insecurity in Europe and has exposed the major geopolitical weakness of Europe," Godinot said.

"Until now, many stakeholders in Europe were saying gas is a driver for energy security. And it has been exposed very brutally, of course that gas, in fact, is currently a driver of energy insecurity and EU policymakers are terrified that winter is coming because we don't know if we will have enough alternative energies or other sources of gas for our energy consumption," he added.

Commission 'got its hands dirty'

The European Union is now scrambling to find other gas suppliers to fill in the void from Russia. 

The Commission has also outlined three proposals to ensure that the 27-country bloc can still power itself through the winter. These include an energy reduction plan as well as a price cap on non-gas producers of electricity and a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies to capture some of the extraordinary profit they've been making over the past few months.

The last two should raise an estimated €140 billion annually, according to the Commission, which says this money should be redistributed to vulnerable households and businesses.

Ariadna Rodrigo, Greenpeace EU's sustainable finance campaigner, said the group is "outraged that the same people that caused the climate and energy crisis, are the same ones profiting from it, while people are suffering."

"The European Commission has a play in this and got its hands dirty with labelling gas and nuclear green. The greenwashing of fossil gas and nuclear was politically motivated from the beginning, but that won’t help the European Commission in court," she added. 

For the NGOs launching the legal case, only the complete withdrawal of the Delegated Act will bring satisfaction.

"The taxonomy regulation itself is good, it's fit for purpose precisely because it requires science-based criteria," Godinot explained.

"The Commission claims the EU is the gold standard. This act is just not the gold standard at all," he went on, citing a "real taxomania globally."

"The Chinese taxonomy is more ambitious than the EU one on gas power. The South African taxonomy is more ambitious than the EU taxonomy. The Columbian taxonomy is more ambitious than the EU taxonomy.

"So that means the EU is sacrificing its leadership on taxonomies and sustainable finance here because of this political compromise. This is very counterproductive. It sends a disastrous signal globally. It's heavily damaging the credibility of the whole taxonomy," he also stressed.