Europe recognized gas and corn as clean energy. But he doesn’t want to take them to the green future

  • Alexey Kalmykov
  • BBC

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Photographer, France Press agency

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Many in Europe oppose nuclear power. Even more than those who oppose coal and heavy bills for electricity and heating. The European Union chose the lesser of two evils

The European Union, after two years of deliberations, registered natural gas and nuclear fuel as clean energy sources, despite the discontent of environmentalists and the largest European economy – Germany.

Against the background of the energy crisis and coal renaissance, the European Union saw that natural and nuclear gas stations would not interfere, but would help Europe move from a dirty fossil past to a green future and achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The European Commission has approved the classification of clean energy sources, and it is likely to come into force in the next six months. Both the atom and the gas got there. True, with reservations – in its current form, oblivion shines on them in the coming decades.

Refusal to recognize it as green would seriously complicate obtaining permits to build new nuclear and gas-powered power plants and increase the cost of attracting funding for these projects.

The “green classification” refers to industries that account for 40% of the European economy and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The world has unanimously recognized that they are the cause of climate change and signed a commitment to reduce emissions to keep global warming within 2°C of pre-industrial levels.

The fateful decision of the European Union is also important because Europe is far ahead of the rest in greening the economy and combating climate change.

Moreover, the European Union is the second largest economy in the world after the United States, but it is seriously lagging behind in reducing emissions. Therefore, the European classification of clean and dirty economy has the potential to become the gold standard for the rest of the world.

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The CHP plant in the Berlin suburb of Lichterfeld runs on natural gas. A new, more efficient station was built on the site of the old station in 2019

The purpose of this classification is to standardize what is green and what is not. Create a quality mark and then issue it to companies and projects. So that the financiers know exactly in which business to invest the money of citizens, companies and the treasury, if they demand to invest only in “green” industries.

Difficult times and temporary measures

Both natural gas and nuclear fuels are considered fossil, dirty, and far from renewable energy sources.

Gas is a source of emissions during extraction, during transportation and during combustion. Nuclear power plant waste is toxic. Although gas is of course cleaner than coal, and nuclear reactors do not smoke at all.

Yet it is politically impossible to give up. For several reasons.

First, an energy crisis is raging in the world, it is especially felt in Europe, which buys a third of the total gas consumed in Russia, and in general, three quarters of it depends on fuel imports. Residents and businesses in the EU are unhappy with the sharp rise in prices, and there are growing demands to suspend the costly green shift.

Gas prices in Europe reached massive heights at the end of last year, and coal is back in vogue, and not just in the Old World. Its combustion in power plants around the world reached record levels in 2021 and will remain so for at least another two years.

video explanation,

Why is the cost of gas and electricity increasing? Causes and consequences of the global energy crisis

As long as renewables are not available in sufficient quantities and on an industrial scale, gas and nuclear will have to be tentatively recognized as being more beneficial to nature and the climate than dirtier alternatives such as coal.

How temporary?

European Union countries will be allowed to operate existing nuclear power plants as long as they ensure that toxic waste is disposed of without harming the environment. The new plants will be considered clean energy sources if they are approved for construction before 2045.

With gas power plants it is more difficult. New species will only be classified as green if they never emit more than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. This is very small, but the EU allowed the construction of more standard plants with emissions of 270 grams per kilowatt-hour – however, only until 2030 and only if it replaced the capacity of the decommissioned coal-fired plants, and did not introduce new ones.

Climate activists lost

The project has been supported by the majority of European Union members, especially Eastern European countries, which depend on coal and for which gas provides the most direct way to reduce emissions. As well as the Netherlands and France.

Photographer, France Press agency

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The Fessenheim nuclear power plant was closed under Macron’s leadership in 2020. But then Macron changed his attitude towards nuclear power

Nuclear power plants cover 70% of France’s electricity needs. President Emmanuel Macron, after his election, promised to reduce this share to 50% and stop dozens of reactors, but he changed his mind. He faces an election this spring in which the contenders support nuclear power as one. Macron is now promising to invest €1 billion in the industry before the end of the decade.

His position will also affect the pan-European position – France has just accepted the transitional status of the EU presidency for a period of six months.

Among the main opponents is Germany, the most populous and richest country in the European Union and the center of European industry.

Germany decided to abandon nuclear power 10 years ago after the Japanese Fukushima accident. The other day, it shut down three nuclear power plants, and the remaining three will be decommissioned within a year.

But the Germans admitted that their opinion on this issue is not decisive in Europe. And they will not argue with the classification of shades of green energy proposed by the European Union.

But neighboring Austria is determined. She is ready to file a lawsuit against the threatened Energy and Climate Minister, Leonora Gosler. According to the minister from the Green Party, the European Commission is more ashamed of giving green status to gas and corn, and therefore the project was rolled out without much fanfare during the festive season, just before the New Year.

Gewessler wrote: “Just from the date of publication, it is clear that they themselves are not sure of the correctness of their decision. We will study the draft and have already asked for a legal opinion. If it comes into force in this form and We will sue. Because nuclear energy is dangerous and not a solution to climate change.”

Photographer, France Press agency

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Germany’s Brockdorf nuclear power plant is one of three plants to be closed on New Year’s Eve 2022

The court is the only thing left for opponents of the green rating for nuclear energy and natural gas. The draft will not be submitted for public consultation, and everything is moving towards the fact that the classification will take effect automatically by mid-2022.

The European Commission plans to approve the regulation in January after a final consultation with experts, after which it will send it to the authorities of 27 EU countries and members of the European Parliament for consideration.

They have been given six months to organize the veto, but it is already clear that it will not happen.

The European Commission is trying to put up for discussion only previously agreed documents and determine the winner of the internal battles before they begin, in order to preserve unity and harmony in the largest political union on the planet, created after two devastating wars at once. fragmented continent. Proponents of nuclear power and natural gas have already won the current rating battle.

In order to play and prevent the EU from assigning a green quality label to gas and corn, their opponents must incite a majority in the European Parliament, which is unlikely, or 20 EU member states, which is impossible, unless something catastrophically unpleasant happens in these Six months in gas or nuclear power.

There is nothing more permanent than temporary measures

The European Union first began classifying shades of green in industries responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions. That is, in energy, industry and transport, as well as in forestry, housing and communal services.

The rest will be dealt with later.

Photographer, France Press agency

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After the EU nuclear power decision, there was light at the end of the tunnel. But she still needs to get there.

Furthermore, standards already set for climate and environmental compliance will be constantly revised as technologies evolve and goals change under the pressure of conditions – natural and political.

The European Commission explains the new rules: “The classification does not require investment only in green industries. It does not provide any mandatory environmental requirements for companies and financial products. Investors are free to decide what to invest in.” “However, we expect that over time this rating will become a guide and catalyst for the green transformation of the economy.”

As a result of the division into taxonomic categories, the European Union recognizes that only those activities that are clean and climatically sound are those that meet two criteria. On the one hand, it contributes to the achievement of at least one of the European climate goals. On the other hand, it does not pose a serious threat to any of them.

Natural gas meets the first condition, as in the coming years gas will be the only affordable alternative to dirty coal in energy and industry. And so that it also fits into the second criterion and does not violate it when carbon neutrality is reached in 2050, the European Union imposes temporary restrictions – the construction of new stations only until 2030.

Nuclear power is still more confusing.

Its proponents rejoice that the green state of the gas is clearly described as “transitional” in the document, while Atom has avoided such a moniker. At the same time, the validity period of the green label of nuclear power plants is clearly defined, which makes it not a permanent, but a transitional state, share doubts David Hess of the World Nuclear Association WNA, which includes companies in the industry.

But nuclear power plants have opportunities to gain a foothold in the green future, in one form or another. Not only French President Macron, but also his British neighbors who have left the European Union are excited about the idea of ​​small reactors.

They hope to solve the problem of the high cost and endless construction of conventional nuclear power plants, which take decades and require billions of dollars in investment. The UK, for example, approved a zero-emissions strategy in October, which allocated £120m to develop small reactors.

All in all, the West understands that without nuclear energy, the transition from fossil energy sources to renewable energy sources is impossible. In its latest report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) listed nuclear power plants and small reactors as one of four key measures to quickly and cheaply reshape the energy sector to keep global temperature rises within 1.5 degrees of the Paris Agreement.

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