EU Proposal Would Count Some Nuclear and Natural Gas Projects as ‘Green’ Investments

wind turbines and nuclear
A nuclear station and wind turbine in France. Photo credit: Sylvain Sonnet / The Image Bank / Getty Images

The European Commission has drafted a proposal that would label some nuclear and natural gas projects as “green” as the EU attempts to transition away from fossil fuels

The proposal, released a week ago, would set specific criteria for what conditions would allow a project to be classified as a sustainable investment. 

“Taking account of scientific advice and current technological progress, as well as varying transition challenges across Member States, the Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future,” the European Commission said in a statement.

A draft of the proposal would label nuclear projects as green if they had plans, money and space to dispose of waste, Reuters reported. They would also have to receive construction permits before 2045. Natural gas plants would count as green investments if they had emissions under 270g of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour (kWh), replaced a higher-emitting fossil-fuel plant, had a permit by the end of 2030 and planned to switch to low-carbon gasses by the end of 2035. 

The proposal to count nuclear and natural gas under certain conditions is not without controversy, with Green-affiliated lawmakers and environmental groups arguing against the idea.

“By including them… the Commission risks jeopardising the credibility of the EU’s role as a leading marketplace for sustainable finance,” EU Greens president Philippe Lamberts said, as Reuters reported.

There is also a national divide on the issue, with France leading a coalition including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania that wanted a role for gas and nuclear, The New York Times reported.

Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Luxembourg and Austria, meanwhile, are worried about more nuclear waste. 

German Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck said the proposal amounted to “greenwashing,” according to BBC News. 

“[It] waters down the good label for sustainability,” Habeck said.

France, on the other hand, gets 70 percent of its energy from nuclear power, though it plans to reduce this by half over the next 15 years.

The EU has plans to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as part of its European Green Deal. The negotiations over what counts as a green investment are part of this push, and have lasted for more than a year, according to Reuters. 

The European Commission will publish a draft proposal later in January, which could still change. It could then be vetoed by either a majority of member countries or the European Parliament.

Natural gas emits roughly half of the carbon dioxide emissions as coal, but it is vulnerable to methane leaks. Some argue it can be a transition fuel to help especially coal-dependent countries switch to renewable energy, The New York Times reported. 

But others argue that counting it as a green investment sets a bad example. 

“If Europe starts calling an investment in gas green, then what exactly is the reason for the African Union not to go fully into gas as well?” Green European Parliament member Bas Eickhout of the Netherlands said, as The New York Times reported. 

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