EU Proposal Would Classify Natural Gas and Nuclear as "Green Investments"

EU Proposal Would Classify Natural Gas and Nuclear as "Green Investments"

The European Union has proposed a new, sustainable investment taxonomy system. If adopted, the bloc would classify some natural gas and nuclear plants as "green investments." In light of the European Green Deal -- the EU's pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 -- this proposal is particularly controversial. Proponents argue that the classification system would drive public and private sector investments in renewables, while critics argue that this puts the EU's net-zero dreams in jeopardy.

The European Commission's official statement asserts that "there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future," and has included several stipulations to whether an investment in either source would be classified as "green." Natural gas plants, for example, would be required to switch to cleaner energy sources (such as hydrogen or biomass) by 2035, while nuclear plants would be required to solve the issue of safe waste disposal.

Why This Matters

When it comes to the question of "clean energy," natural gas and nuclear power are controversial for different reasons. Natural gas is often hailed as a transitional fuel given that it's cleaner than coal, yet its use still results in greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2 and methane. Also, the infrastructure for natural gas is very expensive to build, and typically requires 30 to 50 years to recoup the upfront investment. By contrast, the IEA says we don't have anywhere near that long to continue relying on fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy, on the other hand, does not emit carbon, and could serve as a critical energy source in the move away from fossil fuels. The key issue with increasing nuclear power has to do with waste disposal -- currently, there is no large-scale solution to deal with spent nuclear fuel.

IAEA: Onkalo – A solution for nuclear waste, December 21, 2021.

CNET: Small nuclear reactors could be the future of energy, October 20, 2021.

Gas and Nuclear at Odds

The EU's decision to include both gas and nuclear in the proposal is likely the result of major divisions within the bloc. France, for instance, favors nuclear power and plans to invest in generation from small modular reactors moving forward. Already, nuclear power provides the country with 70% of its electricity.

Other EU countries, including Germany, are extremely anti-nuclear, and favor gas as a transitional fuel. Meanwhile, Denmark, Austria, and Luxembourg are not only anti-nuclear -- they have indicated an intent to sue the European Commision if the taxonomy proposal is to pass.

WW0 Newsmaker of the Week: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Director of Climate & Energy, Third Way, December 17, 2021.