When is a sustainable taxonomy not sustainable? When it becomes captured by lobbyists from environmentally damaging industries, of courseThat is the key – unsurprising but unfortunate – takeaway of our new report on the gas and nuclear industries’ €85m lobbying offensive aimed at overturning their initial effective exclusion from the European Union’s flagship ‘sustainable taxonomy, with support from state backers. Unfortunately, it appears their efforts are paying off, with the door now open to the inclusion of these energy sources confirmed in the European Commission’s “sustainable finance strategy” announcement two weeks ago. But it’s not too late to save the taxonomy. 

A battle with consequences

The outcome of this fight matters. The taxonomy will set the pace for “sustainable” investment in the EU, and will be studied worldwide, and as such has been hotly contested. An initial recommendation in March 2020 from the Commission’s Technical Expert group (TEG) entailed the effective exclusion of gas and nuclear from the EU taxonomy, leading to both lobbies scaling up their efforts to force their way back in. But the truth is that fossil fuels can never be sustainable, and thatthough not as harmful to the climate – nuclear raises major sustainability concerns.

Hitting the Gas

The gas industry has moved heaven and earth to achieve its goals. 776 staff have been employed in 182 gas-related companies and industry groups to lobby the EU. Together they spent between €64.9 and €78.4 million each year, with prominent contributions from oil majors such as Shell, BP Exxon and TotalEnergies (1). Money gets results: namely, an extraordinary 323 meetings with EU officials — more than one meeting every two days (2). This has been buttressed by support from cental and eastern European states, such as Czechia, Hungary and Poland, which are betting on gas to replace their coal fleets.

To persuade their targets, gas lobbyists emphasize its supposed ‘transition’ fuel status (3). But in truth, gas can emit as much greenhouse gas (GHG) as coal and recently became the biggest GHG emitter in the EU power sector. Moreover, global gas production must be drastically reduced to limit global warming to 1.5°C and European infrastructures and plants are already overbuilt to respect this objective.

Going Nuclear

While the gas lobby deployed a veritable armada in pursuit of its goal, the nuclear industry and its backers – weighing in smaller at €7.9m annually, with 119 staff from 27 organizations – pursued a much more surgical approach. For one, the frequency of meetings between EU Commissioners and nuclear lobbyists more than doubled after its initial exclusion by the TEG (4). The report also unveils the role played by ‘astroturfed’ groups set up to mimic civil society groups, as well as by nuclear industry’s experts, whose influence reaches into the EU Commission’s very own Joint Research Committee (JRC).

Like its gas counterpart, the industry has amply benefited from state backing, with nuclear-dependent France leading a coalition of seven states vociferously advocating for its inclusion. It is worth noting that the French government teamed up with notorious gas advocates to protect nuclear, while simultaneously opening the door to gas inclusion in a move that looks a lot like a “nuclear for gas” deal. French state-owned EDF was the biggest individual nuclear lobbyist, spending over €2m per year on EU lobbying.

Nuclear advocates seek to depict it as environmentally friendly (5), emphasizing its role as a ‘decarbonized’ power source. Yet as the report argues, nuclear fails the ‘Do No Significant Harm’ (DNSH) principle at the heart of the taxonomy, given the various environmental risks it poses, as recognized by various experts groups.

Life or Death Moment for the Sustainable Taxonomy 

While the Commission has allowed the gas and nuclear industries to creep back up to the threshold of the taxonomy, they have not yet crossed it. This is a life-or-death moment for the sustainable taxonomy, with potentially enormous consequences for the climate. Reclaim Finance calls on the Commission, EU Parliament and Member states to heed the science and exclude gas and nuclear power from the taxonomy, thus rescuing the EU’s sustainable finance flagship. But the taxonomy is only one step in the journey the EU is making towards sustainability – for it to succeed, fossil fuel lobbyists must be kicked out of EU institutions once and for all.

Notes :

  1. The data have been extracted from the EU transparency register. See full methodology in the report. 
  2. Gas lobbyists had more meetings (about + 9.5%) from January 2020 to May 2021 than from January 2018 to July 2020. The previous report by Reclaim Finance showed that gas lobbyists had 295 meetings in 31 months (about 9.5 meetings a month) while new data indicates they had 323 meetings in 17 months (19 meetings a month). 
  3. A full discussion of the “sustainability” of fossil gas, is available in the report. 
  4. A previous report by Reclaim Finance (see below) showed that nuclear lobbyists had 36 meetings in 31 months while new data indicates they had 27 meetings in 17 months. Therefore, the frequency of meetings between EU Commissioners and nuclear lobbyists significantly increased, jumping from 1.2 to 2.59 meetings per month. 
  5. A full discussion of the “sustainability” of nuclear, using the taxonomy’s criteria, is available in the report. 


Following the publication of the report, the Italian utility company Enel provided information showing that it did not push for gas to be included in the EU Taxonomy and pushed for only renewable energy to be included in the EU Taxonomy. Similarly, the energy company advocates for green hydrogen, excluding the production of so-called blue (fossil fuel and CCS) or grey hydrogen (fossil fuel).

Reclaim Finance conducted an analysis of Enel’s current transition plan. The NGO noted the companies’ pledge to phase-out coal power generation by 2027. Enel’s team also confirmed that the company intends to phase-out gas power by 2050, tho no official commitments have been found. Reclaim Finance will further investigate Enel’s policy and could publish a specific article soon.

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