The European Commission has developed a controversial plan to call certain natural gas and nuclear energy projects as "green" investments. Companies must meet economic and environmental criteria listed in the EU's sustainable finance taxonomy in order to qualify.
A draft of the Commission's proposal would label nuclear power plant investments as green if the project has a plan, funds and a site to safely dispose of radioactive waste. To be deemed green, new nuclear plants must receive construction permits before 2045.
Investments in natural gas power plants would also be deemed green if they produce emissions below 270g of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour (kWh), replace a more polluting fossil fuel plant, receive a construction permit by Dec. 31 2030 and plan to switch to low-carbon gases by the end of 2035.
The European Commission explained its decision thusly: "Taking account of scientific advice and current technological progress as well as varying transition challenges across member states, the Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future."
EU countries and a panel of experts will scrutinize the draft proposal, which could change before it is due to be published later in January. Once published, it could be vetoed by a majority of EU countries or the European Parliament.
Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear energy this year, remains bullish on natural gas and natural gas infrastructure. Natural gas emits roughly half the CO2 emissions of coal when burned in power plants, but gas infrastructure is also associated with leaks of methane, a potent planet-warming gas.
Similarly, Austria and Luxembourg oppose nuclear power.
Other EU states including the Czech Republic, Finland and France, which gets around 70% of its power from the fuel, see nuclear as crucial to phasing out CO2-emitting coal fuel power. The transition to a European renewable-based future appears fraught with division. EU Member States have until 12 January to comment on the Commission's plan.