Europe cannot classify natural gas as green energy

Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels has been front and center since Putin’s war in Ukraine entered a deadlier phase in late February. This is why the vote in the European Parliament on the EU taxonomy regulation, known as the taxonomy of sustainable finance, will be decisive in the coming months.

The proposed taxonomy would qualify fossil gas as a green fuel and therefore further play into the hands of despots and oligarchs. This proposal must be rejected and we should instead accelerate our transition to renewable energy. We therefore call on all MEPs to vote against this taxonomy, both in committee and in the final vote in Parliament in July.

The bill proposed by the European Commission will determine which energy investments can receive a “sustainable” rating in the EU. This rating will guide investors who wish to invest in sustainable activities and will promote the transparency of financial institutions. The rating does not preclude further investment in fossil gas, period, as some proponents might suggest. In fact, it is simply a classification framework that determines which investments qualify as sustainable. It therefore seems completely absurd to suggest that gas and nuclear energy should also receive this green label. However, that is the proposal drafted by Commissioner Mairead McGuinness and her colleagues.

Putting fossil fuel investments on an equal footing with renewables is a mistake, and greenwashing gas will delay the transition to clean energy. This will significantly undermine our green energy transition plans if successful, encouraging the construction of new, long-lived gas-fired power plants. This would divert much needed funds from energy efficiency, energy storage and renewables when they are most needed.

Dependence on Russia

The EU’s continued reliance on Russian coal, oil, gas and uranium plays into Putin’s hands and fuels his war crimes. Energy prices for fossil fuels are also exploding. If there ever was a time to wean the EU off these polluting fuels and accelerate the green transition, now is surely the time. The European Parliament has already approved a resolution calling for an immediate embargo on Russian fossil fuels. The European Commission and EU Member States should heed Parliament’s call.

If there ever was a time to wean the EU off these polluting fuels and accelerate the green transition, surely now is the time.

The commission’s taxonomy was notably rejected by the Sustainable Finance Platform, the very group of independent experts tasked with advising the commission on the legislation. Professor Andreas Hoepner of UCD, a member of that body, described the proposed change as a “giant greenwash”. Some countries, such as Austria and Luxembourg, have already pledged to oppose the revised proposal and take the European Commission to court, arguing that the Commission’s proposal goes against the taxonomy regulation.

Naturally, policy makers want to steer the EU away from dirty fuels, but in doing so we need to make sure we don’t go from frying pan to fire. A move away from Russian fossil fuels could now lead to more energy imports from despotic regimes in the Middle East. It would be a reckless move given human rights abuses in the region, including in Saudi Arabia, where 81 men and boys were executed in a single day last month.

Decades of damage

Wrong thinking is also present in Ireland. Calls by some government officials to resume peat harvesting or build terminals for liquefied natural gas are jeopardizing our ability to fight climate change. This would cause additional decades of damage to Earth’s atmosphere, lands and oceans that may be impossible to repair. It also runs the risk of creating stranded assets and wasting public money, costs that would be borne by households in their bills because of the high prices passed on by commercial operators. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this year, “delay means death.”

We must clearly wean ourselves off the energy supply of countries that do not respect human rights

However, the government is doing a good job of preparing large offshore wind farms. Accelerated modernization plans are already starting to help households with high gas bills. Electrical interconnections with the UK, France and Spain can increase our use of renewable electricity. This is also in line with the recommendations of the National Council for Competitiveness and Productivity.

We must clearly wean ourselves off energy supplies from countries that do not respect human rights. However, the climate emergency has not disappeared and we must also accelerate our clean energy transition to limit the risk of our planet overheating. Now may be the time for the EU to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future. European energy sovereignty should be the goal, and renewables have a huge role to play in this. If we fail, our appetite for fossil fuels will keep the despots in power, and we will be guilty of failing to act when the planet itself was in danger. The proposed European taxonomy jeopardizes our ambitions. It is time for all MEPs to reject this proposal.

Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan are Green Party MEPs for Ireland

Mary I. Bruner