At the stroke of midnight on the last day of the year (perhaps seeking to avoid a public debate) the European Commission leaked a draft of its proposal for a award the European green label, temporarily and with conditions, to the nuclear energy and the gas. The Commission’s proposal is a reasonable compromise. The response of the Government of Spain, an immediate NO and without debate, not only goes against the interests of our country, but also makes it difficult to achieve our climate goals.
The stakes are huge. What was an apparently technical administrative decision, over time has acquired a huge political weight.
Originally, the taxonomy was aimed only at guide private investment towards the environmentally sustainable. But as the months have passed since their approval in 2020, many European bills include references to taxonomy, which means that these green labels will also affect many public investments. It could even be decisive for compliance with the deficit and debt rules imposed by the EU on the States, if the proposals that green investment “not count” in order to calculate the public deficits of these rules are successful.
Elena Ortiz de Solórzano Jorge Villarino
The positions of different countries they are widely found. On the one hand, France, a superpower in nuclear generation, insists that this energy be recognized as green because it emits practically no greenhouse gases. On the other hand, Germany and the eastern countries require gas to be included to facilitate its energy transition, given that its electrical energy currently comes largely from coal (after Germany shot itself in the foot by deciding in 2011 to close its nuclear power plants). Finally, Austria, with enormous hydroelectric capacity given its alpine geography, is opposed to both.
In this context, the Commission proposal – including both technologies, but with harsh conditions – is a sensible compromise.
First, because consider both technologies ‘transitional’; that is, the European green label is only obtained during the transition to a new energy model. In the case of gas, the deadline for new investments (under strict conditions) to be green is 2030, and in the case of nuclear, 2045.
Second, because they get strict limitations on the use of both technologies. For an investment in gas to be green, the new plants will have to have very low emissions (less than 270 gCO2e / kWh, a threshold that would exclude current combined cycle plants) and will have to replace a more polluting fossil fuel plant (for example, coal) . For nuclear power, high demands are placed on the management of radioactive waste, to guarantee its maximum safety.
In addition, the Commission proposal does not allow investments for renewables they end up tortiously financing gas and nuclear. The draft includes specific transparency requirements so that investors can identify investments that include gas and nuclear. Thus, if investors want only invest in renewables and avoid nuclear and gas, they will have the necessary visibility to do so.
In summary, the European Commission has made a exercise of political pragmatism without giving up climate ambition. The next step, once the final proposal is published, will consist of the approval of the proposal by the Member States and the European Parliament. To overthrow it, an absolute majority of Parliament or 55% of the countries, representing 65% of the population, must be against it. A great barrier that, barring surprises, should not be overcome.
The reality is that, despite the fuss of some, nuclear is safe and it does not emit greenhouse gases; and gas is much less polluting than coal and is a necessary temporary alternative.
The position of the Spanish Government to reject everything is I posture that does not benefit citizens at all. The Government knows perfectly well that we will continue to need gas – in fact, promises to keep Algeria flowing– but he neglects it in the face of the gallery. The same happens with nuclear energy: the Government is against a stable source of energy and without emissions, but at the same time it says it wants the price of light to be affordable and predictable and radically reduce emissions.
In short, we do not need posture: we need reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically. And the reality is that until we have one viable solution to energy storage, we cannot aspire to supply ourselves only with intermittent renewables (solar and wind). In these transitional years, we will need nuclear power and gas. And that is precisely what the Commission proposes: use these technologies to save time, without giving up an emission-free world. The challenge posed by ecological transition it requires being pragmatic and using all available alternatives to overcome it.
* Luis Garicano, head of the Citizens delegation in the European Parliament, is vice-president and economic spokesperson for Renew Europe.