The Saga of the European Taxonomy. Position of the Voices on the draft delegated act concerning nuclear energy and gas
The battle over the inclusion of nuclear power and gas in the EU Taxonomy of sustainable investments is not only unabated but seems to be getting more intense. A good summary of the postures can be read in Politico. A lesson: this is no time to give up, and we must keep up our mobilization going forward to be able to exercise an increasingly essential countervailing power that industry and institutions cannot exercise in our place.
You will find below the position of the Voices on the draft Complementary Delegated Act and the latest news on the subject.
European Commission taxonomy and nuclear power: a half-hearted recognition
In the waning hours of 2021, the European Commission sent to Member States for review a draft document1 for regulating, through an official classification or taxonomy, the access of nuclear power and fossil gas to financing according to their supposed degree of sustainability. This document, the Complementary Delegated Act, of the EU Taxonomy, will undergo a limited consultation before being adopted, most likely without major changes.
The Commission’s draft document could be characterized as a half-hearted recognition, as it acknowledges nuclear as indispensable to the EU meeting its climate goals but has the potential to prevent it from playing its role.
On the positive side:
- We approve the Commission’s inclusion of nuclear power in the taxonomy – recognizing the low-carbon sustainable nature of nuclear energy.
- We applaud the Commission’s recognition that nuclear power is indispensable to reach the EU’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
But on closer reading, the document reveals itself to be an intricate and very political text, a compromise (essentially between positions put forward by France and Germany) that fails to reflect the technical realities that should have been taken into account. This proposal, sometimes incomplete or even inconsistent, blurs the long-term vision the EU must take in order to ensure its low-carbon energy supply, and prevents EU companies and investors from playing their role in helping the rest of the world decarbonize its energy supply.
What we regret:
- In setting cut-off dates (sunset clauses) on existing reactor technologies while failing to establish criteria for future technologies, and virtually mandating fast decisions on deep waste disposal facilities, the text disregards the future for nuclear after 2045-2050, stifling the innovation that could lead to even better technology2. It displays a biased approach to the future and to technical progress, putting its faith, and the future of European citizens, in the prospect of a 100% renewable energies model whose viability will not be demonstrated in the near term.
- The proposal addresses the needs of countries such as France and Germany, but while some of its conditions3 may be feasible in some countries, they would shut nuclear out of the future if applied to the EU as a whole. Further, these criteria could heavily handicap the role that EU companies and governments can play in developing low-carbon nuclear power projects in the rest of the world. It is a rather self-centred document – acceptable to some of the wealthiest countries of Europe but hardly supportive of the broader decarbonation effort required by the global climate emergency.
- The Commission oversteps it role by going beyond existing treaties4 that cover the organisation and control of nuclear projects, nuclear safety and waste management at the EU level, and sidesteps the institutional oversight of the Commission’s own scientific and technical experts5. The taxonomy has become a political tool to override those long-existing control mechanisms using the lever of financing. A particularly egregious example: the CDA sets precise deadlines for using innovative nuclear fuel and regulating the final management of nuclear waste, areas that are the prerogative of national authorities, notably safety regulators. It also refers to “international nuclear safety requirements,” which simply do not exist.
- Ignoring the most serious reason to change the world’s energy behaviour, the taxonomy equates the notion of sustainability not with the goal of low-carbon energy supply but with that of 100% renewable energy.
We can only hope that in the revision process that is foreseen, this document will become more grounded in reality, taking science more into consideration, and hence recognize the real sustainable nature of nuclear power and its undeniable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the short and the long term.
A visibly useful reminder as the publication of the new delegated act is imminent: it is Germany, not France, which is pushing for the inclusion of gas in this taxonomy, but also for raising the emission thresholds for gas-fired power plants and removing the obligation to substitute hydrogen for gas gradually. Because Germany intends to rely for a long time on this fossil fuel for its electricity and heating. Whatever the cost for the climate, and for the strategic independence of Europe.
LES VOIX DANS LES MÉDIAS
Dernière apparition : BSmart, le 14 janvier 2022, Débat entre Myrto Tripathi, présidente des Voix, et Corinne Lepage, ancienne ministre de l’Environnement. Regardez ici.
À venir : Le Pluraliste, le 9 février 2022, Débat avec un représentant de Sortir du Nucléaire
Germany also continues to demand the exclusion of nuclear energy despite the scientific evidence provided for its eligibility. Knowing that it is now in the minority on this issue, its new strategy consists of playing for time by calling into question the principle of the delegated act – which was already used for other energy sources – whereby the European Commission draws up a proposal and a qualified majority of countries is needed to block it without the possibility of making changes.
In a letter sent last Friday (January 21) to the Commission, the German government calls on it to modify the procedure for adopting this part of the Taxonomy. It wants the proposal to go through public consultations and then be approved under the ordinary legislative procedure, where the support of the majority of national governments and the European Parliament is needed.
Germany’s heavy dependence on gas, aggravated by its phase-out of nuclear power, and combined with the fact that the country has no gas terminal that can directly receive American liquefied natural gas tankers, has consequences for its geopolitical positioning: Faced with Russia threatening to invade Ukraine, the German government chooses to keep a low profile, and asks its European partners to do the same.
However, its Central and Eastern European neighbors reaffirm their support for the inclusion of nuclear in the Taxonomy. 80 MEPs signed a letter addressed to the European Commission asking for changes that would make the Taxonomy delegated act more realistic, and therefore applicable, in order to be able to play its role.
The Taxonomy is not the only thing that is shaking European politics. A few days before the end of his mandate, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, died. Roberta Metsola, Maltese MEP from the European People’s Party, has succeeded him. Our Maltese representative Matthew Curmi finds himself with a particular responsibility, helping the Maltese population to better understand nuclear energy.
1. Draft of the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) amending Delegated Regulation (EU) 2021/2139 as regards economic activities in certain energy sectors and Delegated Regulation (EU) 2021/2178 as regards specific public disclosures for those economic activities
2. The draft regulations appear to favor new types of reactors (called Generation IV with spent fuel recycling, as well as small modular reactors, SMRs) but ignore the need to fund R&D and demonstration projects after 2045.
3. Such as the requirement for a project eligible for “green” funding to have a “detailed plan” for the commissioning of a deep repository for high-level nuclear waste by 2050.
4. In particular Article 41 of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community
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