Paris, Thursday 22nd July 2021: The European Union’s ‘sustainable taxonomy’ is in danger of being “compromised” by an €85m gas and nuclear “lobbying offensive”, claims a new report from NGO Reclaim Finance. As confirmed in the European Commission’s recently-released sustainable finance strategy, the taxonomy is opening the door to gas and nuclear power, despite both energy sources representing major sustainability threats (1) and being rejected in experts’ initial proposals. The report reveals hundreds of meetings between EU officials and gas and nuclear lobbyists, led by the likes of Shell, BP and EDF, and their industry groups.

The taxonomy will set the pace for “sustainable” investment in the EU, and has been hotly, and acrimoniously, contested. An initial recommendation in March 2020 from the Commission’s Technical Expert group (TEG) would have effectively entailed the exclusion of gas and nuclear from the EU taxonomy, prompting a renewed lobbying frenzy from the two industries to find a way back in.

Paul Schreiber, Campaigner at Reclaim Finance and author of the report, said: “Out with science, in with lobbyists. Our report reveals the extraordinary, multimillion euro efforts of the gas and nuclear sectors to protect their interests and prevent real climate action. Sadly, they succeeded in driving the European Commission to disregard the mass of scientific evidence and undermine the very foundations of the taxonomy, all to satisfy its backroom guests and realpolitik demands. The European Union now only has one way to rescue its beleaguered financial flagship: exclude gas and nuclear power.”

The report lays bare the astonishing extent of industry lobbying efforts. On gas, 776 staff have been employed in 182 gas-related companies and industry groups to lobby the EU. Together they spent up to €78m a year, with prominent contributions from oil majors such as Shell, BP Exxon and TotalEnergies (2). The upshot is an extraordinary 323 meetings with EU officialsmore than one meeting every two days (3).  This has been buttressed by support from Eastern European states like Hungary and Poland.

While the nuclear lobbying operation is much smaller – at €7.9m annually, with 119 staff from 27 organizations – it has been no less active. Shortly after nuclear was sidelined in the initial TEG report, the frequency of meetings between EU Commissioners and nuclear lobbyists more than doubled (4). The industry has amply benefited from state backing, with nuclear-dependent France vociferously advocating for its inclusion. French state-owned EDF was the biggest individual nuclear lobbyist. The report also unveils the role played by “astroturfed” groups set up to “mimic” civil society groups, as well as by nuclear industry expertise and influence that spreads to the EU Commission’s own Joint Research Committee (JRC).

With the Commission promising to address the fate of gas and nuclear in an additional set of delegated acts, campaigners are warning of a “life or death” moment for the EU sustainable taxonomy. Reclaim Finance calls on the Commission, EU Parliament and Member states to exclude gas and nuclear power. After their findings, the authors also argue for fossil fuel lobbyists to be banned from EU institutions.

Schreiber concludes: “While the gas industry unleashed a massive and expensive lobbying operation to pass itself off as a “transition fuel”, the nuclear industry relied on diehard state supporters like France, well-connected industry experts and more subtle astroturfing to win over the hearts and minds of the EU Commission. These bulldozer-and-scalpel strategies are paying dividends: gas and nuclear are on the doorstep of the EU taxonomy. If they crossed the threshold, it would be the final nail in the coffin of what was once presented as the cornerstone of the EU sustainable finance strategy.”

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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.

Notes :

  1. While both sectors have sought to market themselves as part of the sustainable transition, the gas sector as a ‘bridge fuel’ and nuclear as a source of ‘decarbonized’ power, Reclaim Finance counters that neither source meets the taxonomy criteria. Gas can emit as much GHG as coal and recently became the biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter in the EU power sector. Nuclear brings with it significant environmental risks, as recognized by the various experts groups, and does not meet the ‘Do No Significant Harm’ (DNSH) principle.
  2. The data have been extracted from the EU transparency register. See full methodology in the report.
  3. 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).
  4. The previous report by Reclaim Finance showed that nuclear lobbyists had 36 meetings in 31 months while new data indicates they had 27 meetings in 17 months. The frequency of meetings between EU Commissioners and nuclear lobbyists therefore significantly increased, jumping from 1.2 to 2.59 meetings per month.