How gas and corn turned almost green in the EU and what it means for Russia Europe and the Europeans: news and analysis | DW

The European Commission has decided to include gas and nuclear energy in the list of “green” technologies. The European commissioners approved the corresponding law at their meeting on Wednesday, 2 February. But it will come into force no later than four months after that, if it is not banned by the Council of the European Union or the European Parliament.

How the EU defines ‘green’ energy

Among the two main priorities of the current European Commission is the “green” transformation of the EU. To promote it in 2020, the so-called “rating” was introduced. It is a classification system that identifies which economic activities are “sustainable” in terms of environmental impact and which are unsustainable.

However, the EU 2020 regulation itself does not contain a list of such activities. This question was put to the European Commission. In 2021, this list was made for a number of sectors, including transportation, construction, and energy. It includes in particular solar energy, wind energy and hydropower. But officials in Brussels left corn and gas “for later” due to the controversial attitude towards them in the European Union.

It should be noted that each country of the European Union independently determines its structure for generating electricity. Brussels cannot interfere in this matter. What is the purpose of classification then? This is a financial tool that should serve as a guide for private companies, governments and financial institutions when deciding what to invest in.

A wind farm in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany

“Essentially, the rating is just a list of technologies that should be considered green and what should not. It should make it easier for investors to identify green investments. But how will this list be used in the end until it is fully clarified,” Georges Zachman, energy expert at the Brussels Research Center Bruegel, explains in an interview with DW.

Why are corn and gas included in the “green” classification?

European Commission officials insist that corn and gas are not “green” in the strict sense of the word. In fact, the European Commission’s decision categorized them as “transitional” technologies that should help move towards climate neutrality. However, legislative acts on classification do not speak of “green” technologies. Instead, they define “sustainable” technologies in terms of environmental impact.

The classification sets a greenhouse gas emission limit below which electricity generation is considered “sustainable”. That’s 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. Nuclear power plants easily meet this requirement.

However, the classification is not limited to combating climate change. It also stipulates other criteria, such as protecting water resources, moving to a “circular” economy, or preserving biodiversity and ecosystems. There are six criteria in total. Green can only recognize that kind of activity that doesn’t significantly violate any of the criteria.

And in this issue with nuclear energy, everything is not so simple – because of the huge damage in the event of an accident, and because of the problem of radioactive waste. Therefore, the European Commission has set a number of requirements for nuclear power plants if they are to be considered “sustainable”. In particular, we are talking about the implementation of European safety standards and the presence of adequate waste storage facilities.

Nuclear power plant in France

Nuclear power plant in France

With natural gas, the situation is different – the average carbon dioxide emissions of such power plants are about 430-490 g / kWh. The 100g threshold still applies, but thermal power plants for which building permits were issued before the end of 2030 and only if they replace coal-fired or other “dirty” energy sources have been excluded. For them, the threshold was set at 270 g/kWh or the average number of hours they could work per year.

Criticism of defining corn and gas as “green” technologies

The European Commission’s plans to include corn and gas in the classification quickly became one of the most controversial topics within the European Union. The states were divided into several groups. More than a dozen countries, including France, Finland, and several Eastern European countries support corn. A number of other countries want to see gas in the rating. Among them are Germany and Austria, which are strongly opposed to the inclusion of nuclear power plants in the “green” list.

EU countries have the opportunity to prevent the decision on the classification from entering into force. But at least 20 countries where at least 65% of the EU population lives should vote in favor of this, which is highly unlikely.

Greater chances of rejecting the decision of the European Parliament, because this requires only an absolute majority of 353 out of 705 MEPs. The German Peter Leese of the European People’s Party pointed to the increase in the rejection of the European Commission’s decision in various factions. German Social Democrat Joachim Schuster described rejecting the decision on corn and gas in a comment to DW, but declined to make a more explicit prediction.

The European Commission’s intention regarding corn and gas has been the subject of criticism by many environmentalists and experts for several months now. George Zakman asks the question: “Is a gas-fired thermal power plant emit 270gCO2/kWh bad, and a thermal power plant below that a good thing?”. It is stated that even a highly efficient non-gas-fired power plant, which operates only 100 hours per year during peak loads, will emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases than a highly efficient plant, but which operates for a large part of the year.

Rating – a “gift” to Russia from the European Union?

The presence of gas in the rating can lead to the creation of a large number of new thermal power plants and thermal power plants – after all, this will create confidence among investors that the investment in gas is reliable and prestigious. This, in turn, could increase gas imports, and the largest supplier of it to the EU is the Russian Federation. “Maybe we (EU – so.) With this rating, in fact, they themselves “shot in the foot” and help Russia, ”Zachman admits.

The Executive Director of the European Union for Transport and the Environment (which unites dozens of environmental NGOs), William Toddes, has published an article describing the designation of gas as a “transitional technology” as the biggest gift the EU could ever give. Put it in.” He believes that as a result of the current rating decision, billions of euros that could have been invested in renewable energy will go to gas-fired thermal and thermal power plants.

Inclusion of corn in the classification will facilitate investment in building new nuclear power plants or modernizing existing ones. It can also be useful for Russia, because in a number of European Union countries – for example, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – nuclear power plants designed by the Soviet Union operate. At least some of these countries use Rosatom’s services.

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