The European Parliament voted yesterday a majority of 328 to 278 in favor of the Commission’s proposal to include fossil gas and nuclear energy in the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities (i.e. “green taxonomy”), a classification system to define and encourage environmentally sustainable investments.
Rise for Climate Belgium, a citizens’ movement that has called since 2018 for an ambitious European climate policy that respects the Paris Agreement, condemns in the strongest terms this reckless misrepresentation of gas as a green energy, in flagrant contravention of the sustainability criteria established by European regulations.
“Natural” gas is a euphemism that suggests clean, environmentally friendly energy. In reality, gas is a fossil fuel just like coal and oil. Although its CO2 emissions per unit of heat are lower (one quarter less than fuel oil, half that of coal), gas remains a significant, highly damaging contributor to climate change.
Worse still, the main component of natural gas is methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas that has a warming effect on the atmosphere 80 times greater than that of CO2 over a 20-year period. The IPCC estimates that methane emissions from human activity have contributed to one third of global warming since the industrial era, and according to the International Energy Agency, about 40 percent of these emissions are from the energy sector. In 2021, the worldwide exploitation of gas emitted 39 million tonnes of methane, of which Russia (which supplies 40 percent of the gas imported by the European Union) and the United States are each responsible for 14 million tonnes. These massive methane emissions come from leaks at every stage of the gas supply chain: exploration, extraction, storage, distribution and consumption.
If left unchecked, the global warming effect of so-called “fugitive” methane emissions will largely cancel out the CO2 reduction achieved by substituting gas for coal. These climate-damaging leaks are not regulated by the European Union, nor are they even accurately measured and quantified. It was only in December 2021 that the Commission published a proposal for a regulation on the reduction of methane emissions in the energy sector, a regulation that will still have to be negotiated and approved by the European Parliament and Council. In the meantime, there is no incentive for gas operators to reduce their methane emissions, and it is ultimately consumers who pay for these climate-damaging emissions.
It is important to remember that the European Union and 19 of its member states (including Belgium) are among the 119 signatories of the Global Methane Pledge (co-authored by the European Commission and the United States), which aims to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. It includes a formal commitment to “take comprehensive domestic actions to achieve that target, focusing on standards to achieve all feasible reductions in the energy and waste sectors”.
This senseless distortion of the green taxonomy makes a mockery of Europe’s proclaimed ambition to become “the first carbon-neutral continent” and puts the European Green Deal at risk of failure. New investments in gas infrastructure masquerading as “green” will lock us into fossil fuel dependency for years to come. The international press is already calling out this incongruity, and foreign governments will surely point fingers at the EU to justify the lack of ambition of their own climate policies.
Unless the European Council opposes it by 11 July 2022, the green taxonomy will enter into force as of 1 January 2023. We can only hope that at least one member state will have the courage and common sense to exercise its veto power to block it, in the best interests of the planet.
Rise for Climate Belgium