Brussels The people of Brussels are well aware that this is a sensitive political project. At New Year’s Eve 2021, two hours before the start of the new year, the EU Commission sent out communications to EU taxonomies – a time not chosen by chance. Content: Decision on whether nuclear power and natural gas can each be considered as sustainable economic activity.
This has been a hotly debated topic in Brussels for years. Biggest players: France and Germany. Paris wants to fight climate change with CO2-free nuclear power, while Berlin initially wants to use natural gas instead of coal.
As a compromise, the EU Commission now wants to declare two types of energy production as sustainable investment – under certain conditions, there is a plan for a nuclear waste collection plant or gas power plants using gases called “low carbon”. Austria wants to file a lawsuit against the decision.
The most important questions and answers in the current discussion.
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What exactly is EU taxonomy?
It is a classification system for sustainable economic products – a list of all ecologically sustainable economic activities compiled in Brussels. When is a company stable?
Objective: To avoid greenwashing, give investors orientation and divert financial flow – and ultimately finance the green restructuring of the economy. The EU wants to maintain climate neutrality by 2050 and reduce CO2 emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
There are three distinct classifications in EU taxonomy. What exactly does this mean?
Technologies can be categorized as “green”, “enabled”, or “transitional”.
Technologies that meet the following six environmental goals are considered “green”: climate protection, climate change adaptation, marine conservation, the transition to a circular economy, environmental pollution avoidance, and biodiversity conservation.
“Enabling” technologies themselves do not make a significant contribution to climate protection, but they do directly help other companies reduce their CO2 emissions and become more environmentally friendly. An example: Construction of pipelines.
Transitional activities include business areas that have no technically or economically viable alternative to pollution, but they do contribute to the climate-neutral restructuring of the economy.
Is there any other standard for EU taxonomy?
In addition to the above categories and their definitions, the “Critical Evil-Principle” (DNSH) applies. So companies should not cause significant damage to the climate, environment or community with their business.
Why should nuclear power and gas be considered as sustainable investment?
The EU Commission wants to include nuclear energy and natural gas in the transition technology category. The argument in favor of nuclear power is its CO2-free power generation. Gas should fall into this category because the fuel produces less CO2 than burning coal.
Who is on which side in the dispute?
France is leading the pro-nuclear camp in the European Union, while Germany is pro-gas. The Commission’s approach can be seen as a compromise proposal for both sides and the camps.
Who are the proponents and opponents of nuclear power?
The European Union has a pro-nuclear majority. In addition to France, Finland and Vizag, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are all officially committed to nuclear energy.
The decisive rivals are Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Denmark and Portugal.
Even among the countries that are not officially pro- or anti-nuclear, the majority are in favor of nuclear power: there are indications from the Netherlands, Belgium and the Baltic states that they are in favor of nuclear power. Rethink new nuclear power plants. On the other hand, only Italy, Spain and Ireland have so far been seen as more rivals of nuclear power.
Can the plans of the European Union still be put on hold?
The Commission is communicating the draft Representative Act, which will be officially published on January 12. This means that the plan can not be changed later by the council and parliament, but can only be rejected outright.
It requires a qualified majority on the council: 20 of the 27 member states, which represent 65 per cent EU residents, will have to veto. However, this cannot be achieved due to the number of countries that are pro-nuclear.
In the EU Parliament, a simple majority is enough for a veto – but it does not exist. Then by the end of 2022 the regulation will be in place.
So Austria is planning to take legal action. What exactly are the possibilities?
Opponents of nuclear power can go to the European Court of Justice – Austrian Environment Minister Leonor Gewesler has already announced that he will do so.
Your ministry had commissioned a legal opinion last year that, accordingly, nuclear power cannot be a sustainable investment from a legal point of view. Advocates at Redeker Sellner Dahs refer to the DNSH principle and the three branches of EU taxonomy.
Because of the risk of reactor accidents and the problem of nuclear waste, there is currently no final storage solution, and they feel that nuclear power does not conform to the DNSH principle.
Because of environmental issues, nuclear energy cannot be included in the “green” category, they argue. By definition, this can not be considered an “enablement” as it only counts business areas that are CO2 free. The argument in favor of nuclear power is that it is CO2 free. This also applies to the category of conversion technologies: by definition, these are also CO2-free, but nuclear.
Will nuclear power plants be built across Europe if the lawsuit does not succeed?
EU taxonomy has nothing to do with a general license or a general ban on nuclear power in the European Union. Each EU country makes sovereign decisions about its energy composition – that is, whether or not it uses nuclear energy. The EU taxonomy deals only with the question of whether investments in nuclear energy can be labeled as sustainable investment.
However, the question of how European green bonds and thus green EU funding are distributed must be reconciled with the rules of EU taxonomy. Thus, German tax money will eventually flow into the proliferation of European nuclear power.
More: Comment: Criticism of EU taxonomy is exaggerated.
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