VDL handed ultimatum as EU hit with legal challenge over ‘green’ gas and nuclear plan

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is facing a major headache as Greenpeace, along with other environmental campaigners, launched legal challenges against Brussels over its decision to include natural gas and nuclear energy in the EU list of “green” investments. The taxonomy for sustainable investing is a system of classification that determines which investments are “green”, potentially granting certain industries access to bumper funding.

After months of heated debate between different factions over whether to include gas and nuclear in this system, the EU Parliament finally voted to back Ms von der Leyen’s plans in July. 

However, these plans could now face a major roadblock as organisations including Greenpeace, ClientEarth, WWF’s European Policy Office, Transport & Environment (T&E), and BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) have launched legal action against the Commission.

The campaigners argued that by their inclusion, the European Union would violate its own climate laws, citing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by gas power plants, and adding that the move risks diverting critical investments into fossil fuels instead of renewable energy.

Many activists have slammed the EU for the inclusion of gas and nuclear, and have accused France and Germany of using its influence to have the two energy sources included. 

France, which generates 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, had lobbied the EU to label the nuclear energy as a transition fuel in the taxonomy.

Meanwhile, Germany lobbied for the inclusion of natural, justifying its position by arguing that gas should be used as a transition fuel to help Europe move away from the dirtiest energy sources on its route to net zero.

Sebastien Godinot, an economist at the WWF European Police Office, told Euronews: “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. So it was this was a political compromise. It is not based on robust technical, scientific criteria.”

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Greenpeace has requested an internal review of the Commission’s decision to label gas and nuclear energy as green, while the four other environmental groups only focused on gas.

The group has given the Commission until February to respond, adding that if Brussels does not withdraw the rules, they would take their challenges to the European Court of Justice.

Greenpeace campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo said: “Gas is a leading cause of climate and economic chaos, while there is still no solution to the problem of nuclear radioactive waste and the risk of nuclear accidents is far too significant to ignore.”

Brussels said that it added strict conditions to natural gas, noting that it can be regarded as a sustainable investment only if “the same energy capacity cannot be generated with renewable sources”.

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Separately, Luxembourg and Austria, which both strongly oppose nuclear energy, are preparing a legal challenge to the EU rules.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of natural gas was slammed by major Ukrainian politicians and scientists, who argued that this would give Russian President Vladimir Putin more power over Europe.

The Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun tweeted in July: “Putin is rubbing his hands with glee today. 361 MEPs who voted for & abstain just handed him huge gifts by labeling gas & nuclear as ‘green’.

“I thank the brave 278 MEPs who objected. It wasn’t enough, but we won’t stop fighting. EU governments must ban imports of Russian gas!”