EU Plan to Label Gas and Nuclear Power as ‘Sustainable’ Leads to Charges of ‘Greenwashing’

French nuclear power station aerial view in countryside landscape in summer with smoking cooling towers on blue sky
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In a divisive decision by the European Commission, natural gas and nuclear energy can be classified as “sustainable investment” if certain targets are met, reported BBC News. Some members of the commission strongly oppose the plan, which has divided the European Union (EU) and led to accusations of “greenwashing.”

Classifying the power sources as green is not a requirement for gas or nuclear investment, EU officials said. Rather, the classification adds to the “EU Taxonomy,” a set of rules that establishes what can be called “sustainable,” as a guide to private investors.

Chancellor of Austria Karl Nehammer’s response to the new classification was that “nuclear power is neither green nor sustainable,” BBC News reported.

“I cannot understand the decision of the EU,” Nehammer said.

The EU Taxonomy rules are meant to acknowledge enterprises that make a “substantial” contribution to the environmental objectives set out by the EU, “while not significantly harming any” of its goals, reported BBC News.

Austria and Luxembourg have threatened legal action over the “green” classification for gas and nuclear, but the decision to label them “green” isn’t yet final — the European Council and Parliament have four months to object to the action.

During this time, the final rules could be vetoed by either a super-majority of 20 of the 27 EU member countries or a majority of members of European Parliament, reported Reuters.

The Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark oppose the inclusion of gas in the taxonomy, and Austria and Luxembourg, which strongly oppose nuclear energy, have threatened to sue the commission, The Washington Post reported.

Leonore Gewessler, the climate minister of Austria, has referred to the inclusion of nuclear and gas in the classification of what is sustainable as a “cloak-and-dagger operation,” reported The Washington Post.

France has expressed that nuclear power has an important role in tackling climate change, Reuters reported. About 70 percent of France’s power comes from nuclear energy. And for some central and eastern European countries, gas is seen as a necessary bridge in moving away from coal.

Environmental groups have condemned the plan, with Greenpeace calling it an “anti-science plan,” saying that it “represents the biggest greenwashing exercise of all time,” reported The Washington Post.

Even investment groups BlackRock and Vanguard have expressed that the move would hurt the EU’s credibility. In an open letter to the representatives of the EU, the investment firms said that the inclusion of gas in the EU Taxonomy would “seriously compromise Europe’s status as a global leader in sustainable finance,” as The Washington Post reported.

According to Reuters, last week expert advisers to the Commission said the draft rules concerning gas and nuclear did not support the climate change targets for the EU, which include a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“Is [the E.U.] a green leader globally, or is it a global leader in greenwashing?” asked University College Dublin Professor Andreas Hoepner, one of a group of experts who provided guidance on the taxonomy to the EU, reported The Washington Post.

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