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Green campaigners in Germany oppose labeling gas and nuclear power as green energy

Environmental protection organizations demonstrate on the sidelines of a handover of a signature list on EU taxonomy in front of the Green Party headquarters on February 3, 2022. (Photo: Kay Nietfeld//dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Expert Groups Resign in Protest Over 'Crass Greenwashing' of EU Climate Panel

"The E.U. Taxonomy was supposed to be a tool to fight greenwashing," said one of the NGOs. "Instead, it's become a dangerous tool to greenwash."

Jon Queally

Five civil society organizations serving on a European Union advisory panel charged with providing expert guidance on the bloc's green energy transition have resigned in protest, citing political interference and a refusal by the European Commission to accept their advice on a range of issues, including limitations on gas and nuclear power.

The group of environmental and consumer NGOs—including the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), Birdlife Europe and Central Asia, Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), Transport & Environment, and the WWF's European Policy Office—were part of the Platform on Sustainable Finance, a group established to help the European bloc set rules and financial guidelines to govern its transition to a renewable energy system.

"After years spent trying to build it, now it's the time to campaign and convince investors not to follow it."

In a statement explaining the resignation, the groups said "the Commission has repeatedly ignored the expert group's recommendations, particularly on forestry, bioenergy, gas-fired power, and nuclear power, without providing any sound scientific justification for these decisions." 

Climate and environmental campaigners have warned that the Taxonomy process to determine what kinds of energy investments should be labeled "green" has been watered down and sabotaged by industry efforts to include gas-fired and nuclear power plants.

"European governments and lobbies have heavily undermined the E.U. Taxonomy's credibility, and the Commission has folded in front of them," said Sebastien Godinot, senior economist at WWF European Policy Office, in a statement explaining why his group left the panel along with the others.

"We no longer believe this Commission will allow the Platform to work independently and with integrity," Godinot said, "so we cannot be part of this process any longer."

Earlier this year, Greenpeace called out the European Commission for the harmful road it was laying for the E.U. nations with its misguided energy rules, specifically the taxonomy process.

"The Commission's taxonomy is a licence to greenwash," said Greenpeace EU programme director Magda Stoczkiewicz in July. "Polluting companies will be delighted to have the EU's seal of approval to attract cash and keep wrecking the planet by burning fossil gas and producing radioactive waste. Promoting these toxic and expensive forms of energy for decades to come is a real threat to Europe's energy transition. The Commission has shown a shocking disregard for the climate crisis, nature and the people of Europe. The European Parliament and governments need to stop this plan."

Instead of providing reliable and fact-based guidance based on the best available science and sound finance, the groups resigning this week appeared to confirm that the Platform is instead being used by polluting industries to greenwash their damaging business models.

"The Taxonomy was supposed to help guide consumers and enable them to compare green investments," said BEUC's director-general Monique Goyens. "However, for political reasons, it's become a greenwashing tool for climate-harming investments. Consumers would be financially harmed if they rely on this Taxonomy. Since the die is cast on this, we must find alternative ways to promote consumers' best interests."

Also deploying the term, deputy director at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia Ariel Brunner said those leaving could no longer allow the "crass greenwashing" to be legitimized by their participation. "As the ecological crisis precipitates and threatens our very existence," Brunner said, "it is unacceptable that the EU would be willfully misleading investors into causing more harm."

According to reporting by Reuters, one example of outsized industry influence included proposed guidelines for emission levels of gas-fired plants:

The platform of advisers had recommended that gas investments should not be labeled green unless they emit less than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. Today’s best-in-class gas plants far exceed that emissions limit. 

The Commission followed that recommendation in its original proposal, but later amended it, to include gas plants that emit less than 270g of CO2e/kWh, or have annual emissions below 550kg CO2e/kW over 20 years, in the final EU rules. read more 

The final proposal followed a months-long debate and intense lobbying from companies and member states urging Brussels to label gas and nuclear as green. Brussels said it had added "strict conditions" to the final rules to ensure gas plants labeled as green investments complied with climate goals. 

But the resigning NGOs said by not following the advisers' original science-based advice, Brussels had ignored an EU law which specifies the taxonomy should follow "conclusive scientific evidence."

"The EU Taxonomy was supposed to be a tool to fight greenwashing," said Luca Bonaccorsi, director of sustainable finance at Transport & Environment. "Instead, it's become a dangerous tool to greenwash, with incentives for fossil gas, biogas and the indiscriminate logging and burning of forests. After years spent trying to build it, now it's the time to campaign and convince investors not to follow it."

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