Opinion pieces

Europe cannot classify natural gas as green energy

Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels has been in sharp focus since Putin’s war in Ukraine moved into a more murderous phase in late February. That is why the vote in the European Parliament on the EU’s Taxonomy Regulation, known as the Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, will be a decisive one in the coming months.

The proposed taxonomy would label fossil gas as a green fuel, and consequently play even further into the hands of despots and oligarchs. This proposal must be rejected and we should instead accelerate our transition towards renewables. We are therefore calling for all MEPs to vote against this taxonomy, both at committee and during parliament’s final vote this July.

The draft law proposed by the European Commission will determine what energy investments can receive a “sustainable” rating in the EU. This rating will guide investors who want to invest in sustainable activities and promotes transparency from financial institutions. The rating does not prevent further investment in fossil gas full stop, as some proponents might suggest. In fact, it is simply a classification framework that determines what investments can be labelled as sustainable. It seems entirely bizarre, therefore, to suggest that gas and nuclear energy should also receive this green designation. However, that is the proposal penned by commissioner Mairead McGuinness and her colleagues.

Placing fossil fuel investment on par with renewables is wrong, and greenwashing gas will delay the transition to clean energy. This will significantly undermine our plans for a green energy transition if successful, by incentivising construction of new gas plants with long lifespans. It would divert much-needed funds away from energy efficiency, energy storage and renewable energy just when they are needed most.

Reliance 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 going through the roof, too. If there were ever a time to wean the EU off these polluting fuels and accelerate the green transition, the moment has surely arrived. The European Parliament has already approved a resolution calling for an immediate embargo on Russian fossil fuels. The European Commission and the EU member states should heed the parliament’s call.

"If there were ever a time to wean the EU off these polluting fuels and accelerate the green transition, the moment has surely arrived."

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

Understandably, policymakers want to move the EU away from dirty fuels, but in doing so we need to ensure that we don’t move from the frying pan and into the fire. A move away from Russian fossil fuels may now lead to more energy imports from despotic regimes in the Middle East. This would be a rash move considering 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

Flawed thinking is also present in Ireland. Calls from some Government representatives to recommence peat harvesting or build terminals for liquified natural gas imperil our ability to tackle climate change. It would hardwire further decades of damage to the Earth’s atmosphere, lands and oceans that may be impossible to undo. It also runs the risk of creating stranded assets and wasting public money, costs which would be borne by householders in their bills through 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 energy supplies from countries that disregard human rights."

Good work is being done, however, by the Government to prepare for large offshore wind farms. Ramped up retrofitting plans are already starting to help householders with high gas bills. Electricity interconnectors with the UK, France and Spain can increase our use of renewable electricity. This also aligns with recommendations from the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council.

We must clearly wean ourselves off energy supplies from countries that disregard human rights. However, the climate emergency has not gone away, and we must also ramp up our clean energy transition to limit the risks from overheating our planet. This can be the EU’s moment to accelerate the move to a clean energy future. European energy sovereignty should be the aim, and renewable energies have a huge part to play in this. If we fail, our appetite for fossil fuels will keep despots in power, and we will be culpable for failing to act when the planet itself was endangered. The proposed European taxonomy imperils our ambitions. It is time for all MEPs to reject this proposal.

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


April 26, 2022

first published

The Irish Times

cover image

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.