Tomorrow, on 7 December, the European ministers will meet to discuss the ‘green taxonomy’. That’s the list of ‘economic activities that contribute to the EU’s goal of being climate neutral by 2050’. In other words: the taxonomy clarifies which activities may or may not be labeled sustainable, and thus also what financial service providers may consider sustainable investments. The standards determine what may be called ‘good’.
France is eager to have nuclear energy included in the taxonomy. After the modernist 1970s and 1980s, the country did not allow itself to be driven off the nuclear path and is therefore dependent on nuclear energy for 70% of its energy supply. It makes enough of it to also export fossil-free nuclear-generated energy.
If a majority of the European Council of Ministers does not want to call nuclear energy sustainable, France threatens to torpedo the proposal for the green taxonomy. While France stood alone for a long time – especially the Germans are firmly against nuclear energy – the country has recently found a number of partners in Finland, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Since this summer, the Netherlands has also been reluctant to see nuclear energy as a sustainable source.
A “dubious coalition”, says GroenLinks MEP Bas Eickhout about the Eastern European bloc-plus-France in The Financial Times. Because as a medium of exchange, France proposes to add energy from gas to the green taxonomy.
Technologies that are labeled as unsustainable will soon find it difficult to find financing or at higher interest rates, that is the idea. Green is becoming more attractive, fossils are becoming more expensive, just as it should be
Cleaner than coal and lignite
Gas is an attractive green option for some countries. It is cleaner than coal and lignite and can therefore play a role in the transition to sun, wind and hydrogen. But in the Netherlands we think differently. Last week, a large majority in the House of Representatives adopted a motion by PvdA and GroenLinks in which the government is requested to “take a pioneering role in the exclusion of gas in the EU taxonomy”, according to the report. Fidelity.
This fits in perfectly with organizations such as Natuur en Milieu, Milieudefensie, Oxfam Novib, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. They warn against a green label for gas, because gas is and will remain a fossil fuel. ‘Greenwashing’, they call the inclusion of gas in the green taxonomy in an unpublished opinion article in Trouw. “This taxonomy must be the gold standard for what is sustainable, to eradicate green-washing investments once and for all. It is a necessary pursuit, which can be expected to make a big difference in the climate transition. Technologies classified as unsustainable labeled, it will soon be difficult to find financing or at higher interest rates, that is the idea. Green becomes more attractive, fossils become more expensive, just as it should be.”
And that is precisely the reason why a company like Gasunie takes a diametrically opposite position. Not all gas investments are per se polluting. For example, Gasunie wants to borrow €7 billion in the coming years to finance the energy transition, for example by investing in converting the gas network to hydrogen. If gas is not given a green label, investors will be less eager to put money on the table. And then you achieve the opposite effect. But… against the belief in the greenness of hydrogen is the probability that borders on certainty that hydrogen will never be economically and ecologically viable. It seems most likely to assume that green hydrogen is a useful storage medium as a kind of ‘battery’ for a surplus of solar and wind energy at peak times, but not a serious energy source.
A lot still needs to be done to get the thinking about what green is on an equal denominator
In the meantime, the energy transition continues at full speed. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the growth of renewable energy is set to break all records this year. The IEA expects global renewable energy capacity to increase by 60% over the next five years to more than 4800 gigawatts. “By comparison, that’s the total current capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined,” writes of IEA. But even that is not enough, this rapid growth is not enough to achieve climate neutrality (zero emissions) by 2050. “For that, green electricity has to grow about two times faster, and biofuels even four times faster.” And it is precisely these biofuels that are an attack on sustainable use of the soil and the food supply, as Henk Breman and Jeroen van Buuren convincingly demonstrate on Foodlog.
Before them, leading members of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences already showed that the raw materials for biofuels do not grow fast enough to be sustainable. The document they wrote about it sparked fierce debate. Other scientists called the vision of the KNAW members of ‘kindergarten level’.
A lot still needs to be done to get the thinking about what green is on an equal denominator. Unfortunately, science offers no solace due to lack of consensus.
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Green, greener, greenest – Europe torn over gas and nuclear energy in green taxonomy – Foodlog