BRUSSELS – In a historic vote on Europe’s climate and energy policies, lawmakers said on Wednesday that some gas and nuclear projects should be considered “green” and get cheap loans and even government support.
The meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, voted to accept a proposal from the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, by 328 votes in favor and 278 against.
Inside the parliamentary chambers and outside the building, policy critics booed in protest.
The Commission’s proposal to label gas and nuclear as “green” is part of a broader new EU law that classifies different types of energy investments as environmentally friendly, and sets out detailed rules on how they are assessed.
This policy, known as “grading,” aims to stop “greenwashing,” the widespread practice of mislabeling energy projects as environmentally friendly. It would also give the bloc, which includes 27 industrialized and wealthy nations, extra wiggle room as it seeks to replace Russian energy sources in its efforts to punish the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine this year.
But the classification remains controversial in environmental circles. Critics of the proposal claim that trying to classify gas and nuclear projects as green is itself “greenwashing” and runs counter to European efforts to cut carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Europe’s decision is likely to resonate beyond the region’s borders as its policy may be taken as a global standard and replicated in other parts of the world, according to experts.
The “green” rating for gas and nuclear provides financial incentives for European countries and companies to invest in these energy sources, and critics say it will delay the complete transition to renewables that are much better for the environment, such as wind and solar power.
The European Commission said it knows that gas and nuclear are not fully compatible with environmental goals, but it still considers them important in Europe’s transition from its current energy mix to a carbon-neutral future. The gas is called a “low-emissions” fuel, which is accurate, but only if compared to coal, which is very polluting.
These goals, and the means to achieve them over the next few decades, are key to Europe’s efforts to lead the world in climate policy. But they also became pivotal in its stance against Russian aggression against Ukraine.
European Union countries have so far banned Russian coal and most of them will even stop importing Russian oil, but they still rely exclusively on Russian natural gas for electricity and heating.
Russia has used its gas exports to Europe as a tool to put pressure on the European Union. The bloc is trying to get gas from other sources, such as Africa, the Middle East and the United States, but it is far from banning Russian imports because it desperately needs it.