Brussels faces backlash over delay to decision on whether gas is green

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The European Commission is facing a political and scientific backlash over its decision to delay part of its landmark classification system for investors in an attempt to resolve a dispute about how to classify energy sources such as natural gas and nuclear power.

A new draft of the proposals, due to be published on Wednesday, suggested a separate classification system for gas, nuclear and agriculture that would be set out after the summer. The text, seen by the Financial Times, said natural gas should be considered a “transitional” technology and Brussels would consider “the merits of a sunset clause” limiting its use. 

But the delay and the inclusion of forestry activities as a form of green economic activity were fiercely criticised by expert groups — including environmental NGOs and consumer bodies — which have been part of the two-year-long consultation process.

Some told the FT that they would stage an unprecedented walkout from the project later on Wednesday. 

Monique Goyens, head of the European Consumer Organisation, said the draft rules were “greenwashing and misleading for retail investors”.

The environmental taxonomy was initially designed as a science-led exercise that would make the EU the first major global regulator to set the rules for what counts as a truly green investment. 

But the project has been beset by delays and political controversy. Earlier this year, some EU governments rejected an initial draft because they wanted more favourable treatment of lower emissions technologies such as natural gas.

Germany and other member states in eastern Europe see gas as a crucial part of their transition from fossil fuels, which will help the EU meet its emissions goals by 2030. France and the Czech Republic have also demanded that nuclear technology is not penalised.

EU member states and MEPs have the power to reject the commission’s text if they can find a qualified majority to oppose the measures. 

Six EU nations — including Poland, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic — on Tuesday signed a joint letter to the commission saying they opposed the carve-out of nuclear and gas from the proposals.

“It would be wrong to mark nuclear and gas for a transitional period of time clearly as not green and it will substantially harm countries with a strong share of industry in their economy,” said the letter. “It would be de facto contrary to the principle of free choice of energy mix and right to choose the most appropriate technologies.”

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