European Union lawmakers voted Wednesday to include natural gas and nuclear in the bloc's list of sustainable activities, backing a controversial proposal from the bloc's executive arm that has been drawing fierce criticism from environment groups.
The European Commission earlier this year made the proposal as part of its plans for building a climate-friendly future, dividing member countries and drawing outcry from environmentalists as “greenwashing.”
EU legislators from the environment and economy committees objected last month to the plan, setting up Wednesday's cliff-edge vote in Strasbourg, France. But EU legislators rejected their resolution in a 328-278 vote, with the result announced in a salvo of applause.
Greenpeace immediately said it will submit a formal request for internal review to the European Commission, and then take legal action at the European Court of Justice if the result isn't conclusive.
“It’s dirty politics and it’s an outrageous outcome to label gas and nuclear as green and keep more money flowing to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war chest, but now we will fight this in the courts," said Ariadna Rodrigo, Greenpeace's EU sustainable finance campaigner.
European Parliament rapporteur Bas Eickhout rued “a dark day for the climate and the energy transition."
The green labeling system from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, defines what qualifies as an investment in sustainable energy. Under certain conditions, gas and nuclear energy will now be part of the mix, making it easier for private investors to inject money into both.
The plan has divided the 27 member countries amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, and even the parliament's political groups, while environmentalists claim it amounts to “greenwashing.”
Protests that had started on Tuesday continued Wednesday outside the EU legislature as lawmakers debated the issue.
One argument for rejecting the proposal is that it will boost Russian gas sales at a time when it is invading neighboring Ukraine, but the European Commission said it had received a letter from the Ukrainian government backing its stance.
European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness quoted from the letter from Ukraine's energy minister Tuesday: “I strongly believe that the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy is an important element of the energy security in Europe, especially with a view to replacing Russian gas."
“I don’t think we should second-guess this letter,” McGuinness said.
The commission believes that including nuclear and gas as transitional energy sources that would be phased out later doesn't amount to a free pass, as conditions would still have to be met.
With the EU aiming to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, it says the classification system is crucial to direct investments into sustainable energy. It estimates that about 350 billion euros of investment per year will be needed to meet the 2030 targets.
The EU is trying to wean itself off its dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and member countries have already agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil by year-end. Before the war in Ukraine, it relied on Russia for 25% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas.