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Gas, nuclear energy set to be labelled ‘green’ under European Union proposals

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The European Union is set to label both gas and nuclear energy as ‘green’ energy sources, despite a furious response from several EU countries. 

Publishing the proposals on New Year’s Eve, the European Union has been accused of greenwashing, with campaigners noting that both gas and nuclear power sources undisputedly harm the environment in some way. 

Many would argue that gas is less harmful than coal power, which is why central, eastern and southern European countries lobbied for its inclusion as a green energy source, but burning natural gas still emits harmful chemicals. In fact, burning natural gas is a huge source of the planet’s methane emissions, which has been shown to have 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. 

Meanwhile, opponents of nuclear energy have noted that the need to dispose of nuclear waste would exclude it from being regarded as a green energy source too. However, powerful nations within the European Union including France and the Czech Republic have lobbied for its inclusion, while Germany has been steadfast in its opposition. 

Under the proposals, both gas and nuclear power projects would be subject to constraints. For natural gas, it will only be classified as a ‘sustainable investment’ if it creates capacity that could not currently be replicated with renewable sources. However, the EU clearly wants countries to use this as a ‘transition fuel’, not a permanent solution, with any investment subject to the promise that capacity will be switched to renewables or low carbon gases by a specific date. 

The stipulations are a little more wishy washy with nuclear power, with the EU only requiring projects to demonstrate they have a plan to deal with radioactive waste. 

The European Union’s definition of ‘green’ energy sources will be important going forward, as the bloc sets rules on investment in clean-energy projects, which is set to be worth billions. It means that natural gas and nuclear power plants will be able to compete for the same pot of investment as wind and solar power projects. 

Several countries have responded with indignation at the European Union’s proposals, with Germany notably furious at the suggestion that nuclear or natural gas could be considered green. Meanwhile, Austria has threatened to sue the European Commission over the proposals. 

Despite heavy opposition, in order to block the plans the likes of Germany and Austria would need to secure a supermajority, which appears unlikely. That means the European Union is likely to move forward with the supposedly greenwashed plans. 

The European Union has allowed groups until January 12 to respond to the proposals, which is considerably shorter than the four weeks they would normally have to formulate a response. Campaigners have suggested that this is the European Union’s way of forcing the proposals through without proper scrutiny. 

Greta Thunberg described the plans as “fake climate action,” which will mean the European Union is unlikely to meet its goal of net zero by 2050.

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