European Union says gas is green – environmental groups say that's ridiculous

Brussels, Belgium - The European Union just took the next step in the climate action dance, but critics and climate experts are already calling it a misstep. The frustrated scientists, advisors, and environmental groups are angry about new regulations that classify natural gas and nuclear power count as green sustainable energy.

Activists protest the inclusion of natural gas and nuclear power as "green" before the EU's new rules were announced.
Activists protest the inclusion of natural gas and nuclear power as "green" before the EU's new rules were announced.  © IMAGO / Tim Wagner

The European Commission adopted natural gas and nuclear energy as "green" energy in its new rules to guide the EU to zero emissions by 2050.

This caused an international outcry, but the loudest voices were from financial and environmental experts who advised the commission.

The experts, who come from the 27 EU member states, and many environmental groups declared the decision a "missed opportunity".

For many, counting investments in natural gas and nuclear power as sustainable opens the door for massive greenwashing, which paints practices as being better for the environment than they are.

The rules do say that investments in gas and nuclear energy projects will have to meet strict requirements, and will only count as sustainable until renewable energy projects can replace them.

European Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said in a Brussels press conference the decision "may be imperfect but it is a real solution. It moves us further towards our ultimate goal of carbon neutrality."

It's safe to say that Greenpeace campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo doesn't agree. In a scathing press release, she accused the EU executive of "trying to take billions of euros away from renewables and sink them into technologies that either do nothing to fight the climate crisis, like nuclear, or which actively make the problem worse, like fossil gas."

Are natural gas and nuclear power green?

Liquid Natural Gas tankers and their owners could benefit from "green" investments.
Liquid Natural Gas tankers and their owners could benefit from "green" investments.  © IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

Whatever the EU's latest rule book says, natural gas is a fossil fuel, and drilling for and burning it releases CO2 and methane, two greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

Fossil fuels were made over the course of hundreds of millions of years, as the remains of animals and plants decomposed and were eventually pressed into oil, coal, and gas.

This makes gas neither renewable, nor environmentally friendly, although it is seen by some as a necessary evil on the way to a zero-emissions world, to bridge the gap before enough renewable energies and energy storage comes online.

Nuclear power doesn't release a meaningful amount of greenhouse gases to generate electricity, but it has its own problems that critics say should have kept it from being counted as a green technology.

Nuclear waste still lacks a permanent storage location in every country except Finland and Sweden, and is currently mostly stored on-site at the nuclear power plant where it was created.

However, much like natural gas, nuclear power is looked to as a bridge to help provide power while the world transitions to renewable energy.

Opponents of the green taxonomy rules have now turned to the European Parliament to block the changes. To do this, a majority of 353 parliamentarians is needed – a high threshold that is unlikely to be met.

Cover photo: IMAGO / Tim Wagner

More on Environment and Climate: