Should investments in gas and nuclear power plants be classified as climate-friendly under certain conditions? A heated debate is now coming to a showdown in the European Parliament.

Shortly before the decisive vote in the European Parliament, environmentalists campaigned for a clear no to the EU plans to classify investments in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly under certain conditions.

Before the vote this Wednesday, the German Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer explicitly called on the MPs from Christian Democratic parties such as the CDU and CSU, who are considered to tip the scales, to vote against the project as a whole. These could now show that climate protection is also her topic, she told the German Press Agency.

“The European Parliament could make history by refusing to greenwash gas and nuclear power as ‘sustainable’,” emphasized Neubauer. Such a decision is also the EU’s strongest weapon against Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, because it will ensure that more countries gave up Russian gas.

Nabu President rejects plans

The President of the Nature Conservation Union (Nabu), Jörg-Andreas Krüger, also called for the project to be rejected. This creates new fossil dependencies instead of diverting investment funds to the urgently needed climate-neutral and environmentally friendly expansion of renewable energies, he told the editorial network Germany (RND).

This Wednesday, the members of the European Parliament will decide whether investments in gas and nuclear power plants can be classified as climate-friendly under certain conditions. Specifically, the vote in Strasbourg is about the so-called taxonomy of the EU. It is a classification system designed to steer private investment into sustainable economic activities and thus support the fight against climate change.

The taxonomy is relevant for companies because it influences the investment decisions of investors and could therefore have an impact on the financing costs of projects, for example. Investors should also be able to avoid investments in climate-damaging economic sectors.

Gas as a transitional technology?

As a first step, a decision was made last year to classify electricity production with solar panels, hydroelectric power or wind power as climate-friendly. In addition, criteria have been defined for numerous other economic sectors. For example, they regulate that passenger and freight trains can be classified as climate-friendly without direct CO2 emissions.

At the end of last year, under pressure from some member states, the EU Commission responsible for legislative proposals also proposed classifying investments in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly under certain conditions. France, which sees nuclear power as a key technology for a CO2-free economy and would like to continue exporting the technology to other countries, played a decisive role in this. In return, Germany advocated a green label for gas as a transitional technology.

Prevention of the project with at least 353 MPs

The implementation of the Commission’s proposal can only be prevented if at least 20 EU countries representing at least 65 percent of the total population of the EU – or at least 353 members of the European Parliament – join forces. Since the achievement of a corresponding majority in the Council of the EU is considered impossible, the vote in the European Parliament is decisive.

There, on Tuesday, both opponents and supporters were convinced that they could win the matter. Among other things, opponents argue that incentives to invest in the construction of new gas-fired power plants stand in stark contrast to efforts to become independent of Russian gas. In addition, there is sharp criticism of the planned use of nuclear power, especially against the background of possible risks from countries such as Germany, Austria and Luxembourg.

EU Financial Markets Commissioner Mairead McGuinness told the plenary that some EU countries needed gas in the transition period to shift away from dirty fossil fuels. Nuclear power is low-carbon and therefore also part of the energy mix for a transition phase. “I would like to stress that no Member State is required to invest in nuclear power or gas,” McGuinness said.

Greens accuse France of “political play”.

However, Green MPs such as Bas Eickhout and CSU MP Markus Ferber were not convinced. Ferber accused the Commission of having compiled the legal act according to political criteria rather than scientific ones. Eickhout called the project a “pure French political game”.

Specifically, the plans of the EU Commission envisage that investments in new nuclear power plants planned in countries such as France, Poland and the Netherlands can be classified as sustainable if the systems meet the latest technical standards and there is a concrete plan for a disposal facility for high-level radioactive waste be submitted by 2050 at the latest. In addition, it should be a condition that the new plants receive a building permit by 2045. When classifying new gas-fired power plants, it should be relevant how much greenhouse gases are emitted and whether the plants can also be operated with green hydrogen or low-carbon gas by 2035 at the latest.