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Nuclear nation France exerted pressure on European Commission. Climate taxonomy deal threatened by possible inclusion of nuclear as ”virtuous”

The future of the European nuclear industry is playing out in Brussels. 9 Apr 21, The Commission is due to unveil this month the list of energies that will be considered “green” for investors. But an entry of nuclear and gas into this “taxonomy” risks weakening the ambitions of the EU and its Green Deal.

Brussels (Belgium), correspondence

This is a decision that will weigh on the future. For several months, the European Commission has been working on an important tool, supposed to support the energy sector and the Member States in reducing the continent’s CO2 emissions. This involves establishing a classification (called “taxonomy”) of energy sources that will be considered “virtuous” for the environment and the fight against global warming. While gas and nuclear power were initially ruled out, these two sectors are making an unexpected comeback in the discussions, on the eve of the publication by the Commission of its position, scheduled for April 21.

Initially, what is called “green taxonomy” was established on “scientifically defined” sustainability criteria, explained to Reporterre Neil Makaroff, Europe manager for the Climate Action Network. This is how the nuclear sector was sidelined mainly due to the impact of radioactive waste on the environment. But over the months, and following the adoption this summer of the European recovery plan (of which 30% of expenditure will have to be directed towards actions for the climate), taxonomy has become the object of political and economic interests. States. “It is a tool that should be neutral, but by introducing political issues into it, we are trampling on what scientific experts have established,” said Neil Makaroff.

The financial stakes are indeed very important for the sectors since, even if the classification will not prevent investors from supporting the sectors of their choice, the “green taxonomy” should be widely used as a reading grid by public investors, to start with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Member States subject to their climate targets. For private investors, the criteria of the taxonomy will also be benchmarks for obtaining labels on sustainability and highlighting their environmental commitments. In fact, proposing such a list amounts to directing a windfall of several billion towards the infrastructures officially dubbed for their contribution to the energy transition.

France wants to save its nuclear power hero.

In this context, the nuclear industry would like not to be forgotten by this great banquet. It initially had little hope of being invited, as several European states are hostile to her – Austria in the lead, but also Germany. Since the issue has been politically very sensitive within the Union for a long time, it was expected that nuclear power would be treated separately, later than taxonomy, with another text. Nuclear power was therefore not included in the first version of the green taxonomy project, revealed in November 2020.

However, France, a European country which has by far the largest nuclear fleet, expects that expenditure to support an industry with aging infrastructure will only increase, while private financing is increasingly difficult. to find. There is therefore a general French mobilization to try to influence the Commission. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, thus took the head of a group of seven European leaders to write, in mid-March, a letter to the European executive asking him to carefully consider the low carbon content of the production of atomic energy. “We call on the European Commission to ensure that the EU’s climate and energy policy takes into account all avenues towards carbon neutrality in accordance with the principle of technological neutrality,” wrote the seven authors.

What has given nuclear supporters hope, observers say, is the fact that the Commission seems to be backing down on the gas issue, under political pressure from ten Member States unhappy that it had not been retained as “transitional energy”. As the timetable has thus been delayed, France would like nuclear power to no longer be treated separately – which would risk excluding it from the central tool of green finance – but that it already appears in the second version of the delegated act to be published shortly. She thus found an alliance of interests with gas advocates to serve the nuclear cause. “It is very rare for heads of state to write a joint letter on this kind of subject to the Commission,” said Neil Makaroff. But that France, which shows so much its ambitions in terms of green finance, joins forces with States which want to include fossil energy in the taxonomy, it shows that it is the political game which is weighing on the Commission. “

“A last minute, opaque and politicized process”

Another recent event has also come to show how much the turn of the debate has changed. Wishing to spare the pronuclear a little and save time, the European Commission had ordered a report several months ago from its scientific committee, the Joint Research Center (JRC or JRC in English), on radioactive waste. At the end of March, rumors reported that the JRC had favorably concluded a “green” labeling for nuclear power, which should be recognized as a “transitional fuel”.

In this context, in early April, nine members of the technical expert platform (five NGOs and four experts) who had helped establish the original criteria for the taxonomy threatened to slam the door of the working group with the Commission. Faced with pressure to reintroduce fossil gas and nuclear power, they denounced a “last minute, opaque and politicized process”. “On the concept of what can be considered scientifically sustainable is not for politicians to decide,” said one of the scientists who signed the warning letter.

Originally conceived with the objective of giving clear guidelines, and presented as a world first in the field, taxonomy is therefore now in danger of being blurred by the political and strategic considerations of the Member States. For the defenders of an ambitious climate policy in Europe, if the European executive fails to keep this promise, it could ultimately affect the credibility of its “green deal” and, by extension, the Union itself in the world leadership it intended to take in the fight against global warming. 

April 10, 2021 - Posted by | climate change, EUROPE, politics international

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