What is green and what is not? This sounds like a simple question, but in Brussels, the issue is a political minefield. The European Commission now wants to put gas and nuclear power plants on the list of sustainable investments.
Environmental clubs and some European Union countries are highly critical of this proposal. What exactly does the list mean and what does Brussels want to achieve with it?
The green classification, as that list is called, is meant to be some sort of distinguishing feature. It should make it clear to investors what is considered a sustainable investment. For example, is an investor looking for a green inland shipping company to invest in? Then the condition is that carbon dioxide does not come out of the chimney. Pumping money into the fertilizer plant? Then you can call this investment green if the plant uses wastewater as a source.
With the Quality Mark, the authority wants to encourage companies to invest in green and prevent companies from pretending they are more sustainable than they are now. Soon the company won’t be able to simply label a product as “green.”
If gas-fired power plants are included in the list, they will therefore be considered sustainable investments in Europe. “If you want to build a new power plant in the future, it could be cheaper,” says Sander van Horn, EU correspondent. “Because the European Quality Mark makes it a safe investment, which means that banks lend you money faster and charge less interest.”
Environmental clubs criticize the plans. Gas-fired power plants pollute the environment less than coal-fired power plants, but still emit a lot of carbon dioxide. Lots, according to Greenpeace. He describes the European Commission’s plan as a “license” for companies to pretend they are greener than they are now. “The polluting companies will rejoice.”
Van Horn says Brussels sees gas as a necessary transition fuel. “Germany shuts down nuclear power plants and has to get rid of coal. Same goes for Belgium. There simply isn’t enough wind and solar power to replace those power plants.”
The decision to put nuclear power plants on the list has also been criticized. No carbon dioxide is released when nuclear power is generated, but nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years. Environmental organizations and countries such as Germany also point to the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.
The discussion shows where the EU’s political fault lines are, says Van Horn. France, which has several nuclear power plants, wants Europe to promote nuclear power. Germany strongly opposes this. Eastern European countries would like to include natural gas in the sustainability list. They think the move from coal to solar and wind is still too big.
“The proposed list is a compromise that serves several purposes, says the European Commission. Countries like France and the Czech Republic rely heavily on nuclear power. If they have to switch to gas because they have to shut down nuclear power plants, they get further away from climate targets.”
The rating specifies conditions for when a power plant is considered “green”. For example, nuclear waste must be stored safely, and a “green” gas-fired power plant must replace the (more polluting) oil or coal-fired power plant. “And these requirements become more stringent over the years,” Van Horn says.
However, critics fear the commission’s proposal will lead to less investment in solar and wind energy. Van Horn: “This is a big fear of the green parties in the European Parliament. They say: If you can build a gas power plant on the cheap, why bother with wind farms? Moreover, they say, Europe has a model job. Do you want to send a signal to the rest? The world that gas is green?
The Green List is not yet final: the European Parliament and member states have yet to vote on it.
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