Climate change: EU plan to label natural gas ‘sustainable’ triggers backlash

Including energy sources on the EU green list could unlock a wave of private investment in new nuclear and gas projects. But the plans have angered climate activists and could still be blocked by European lawmakers, who are also deeply divided on the issue.

“I think we have struck a balance between fundamentally different opinions,” said EU Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

“The end is a low-carbon future powered by renewables. We don’t have the capacity for that yet,” she said, justifying the inclusion of gas and nuclear.

Only four countries — Spain, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg – publicly voiced their opposition to gas and nuclear, but were unlikely to move the dial as most other member states – including heavyweights like Germany and France – backed at least the one of the two sources of energy.

The policy has opened a fierce debate over whether natural gas – a fossil fuel that contributes significantly to climate change – should play a role during the transition to renewable energy and for how long. Natural gas generally emits less carbon dioxide than coal, but critics argue the focus should be on boosting renewables and supporting new gas projects will only extend the life of the fossil fuel .

Nuclear, on the other hand, is a low-carbon energy source, but the arguments against it revolve around safety, including how to store the radioactive waste it produces. Nuclear power plants are also expensive and projects usually face delays.

A chimney emits steam at the Peakshaver liquid natural gas facility in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Bas Eickhout, a green lawmaker from the Netherlands who sits in the European Parliament, said he had ‘never seen such a strategic mistake on the part of the Commission’ and that the policy contradicted calls from the European Union the rest of the world to rapidly decarbonize their savings.

“We are undermining all the credibility of our Green Deal,” he told CNN, referring to the centerpiece of EU climate legislation. “And on the gas side, I really don’t see it. I don’t see the added value.”

The European Union is often seen as a global climate leader and its policies have inspired many in other countries.

“We are always proud to say that the world is following the EU’s lead, and it will happen here too. Europe is going to say fossil gas is OK for 10 years. What do you think, what kind message you give, for example, to African countries who are also thinking about their energy future, and who will then be stuck in gas for longer?” says Eickhout.

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Climate and energy experts have also criticized the move as likely to hinder Europe’s green transition.

The European Union aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to become a net zero emissions economy by 2050. Net zero is where emissions are significantly reduced and those that remain are compensated, whether using natural methods. such as planting trees or technology to “capture” emissions. The effectiveness of such technology is currently limited.

The bloc is also facing calls to reduce its reliance on natural gas, as ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine threaten to disrupt its energy supplies, keeping prices at record highs.

A recent report by think tank InfluenceMap, which tracks the impact of business and finance on climate policy, showed that fossil fuel companies were aggressively lobbying to influence policy and several others regarding the future. some gas.

“It appears the gas industry has been able to exert its influence and undermine a science-based climate policy process in favor of measures that serve its short-term interests,” said Rebecca Vaughan of InfluenceMap, which follows sustainable finance.

Teresa H. Sadler