Presse Release

Paris, 2nd of February 2022 – As a result of effective industry lobbying supported by a pro-gas and nuclear alliance of countries, the European Commission has included fossil gas and nuclear power in the European sustainable taxonomy. The EU’s sustainable finance flagship thus becomes the new standard for greenwashing. In reaction, Reclaim Finance calls on French and European financial actors to adopt their own gas and nuclear exclusions.

The delegated acts of the taxonomy published today ratify the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, not as “sustainable” activities but as “transitional activities”, for a limited period and under conditions (1). Henceforth, rejecting this decision would require an unlikely shift in the balance of power between member states or an exceptional mobilization of MEPs (2).

Paul Schreiber, Campaigner at Reclaim Finance, comments: “If the European Commission has not dared to label fossil gas and nuclear power as sustainable, they will fully benefit from so-called “taxonomy-aligned” financing, and therefore be financed by banks, investors and states claiming to contribute to the ecological transition. The taxonomy thus becomes a tool of institutional greenwashing, one that makes a mockery of the EU’s desire to position itself as a sustainable finance leader.”

The publication of the delegated acts closes a discussion that has divided member states since the Commission’s Technical Expert Group (TEG) recommended their exclusion in March 2020 (3). Gas and nuclear industries have been engaged in intensive lobbying ever since. By mobilizing 776 people employed in 182 companies and interest groups and spending €78 million per year, gas lobbyists secured more than one meeting every two days with EU officials from January 2020 to May 2021 (4). At the same time, the frequency of meetings between these officials and nuclear lobbyists also increased sharply (5).

The impact of this lobbying was largely reinforced by the support of states planning to develop gas and nuclear power, such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. France has played a key role in allying itself with these countries to secure a backroom deal allowing gas in exchange for nuclear (6).

By way of comparison, Russia – the world’s second largest gas producer – has excluded gas from its sustainable taxonomy (7). The Greenfin and Nordic Swan Ecolabel exclude gas and nuclear power, and such exclusions are also proposed for the European Ecolabel under construction.

Lucie Pinson, Director of Reclaim Finance, points out: “A taxonomy fueled by gas and nuclear cannot guide the decarbonization of financial flows. Fortunately, some investors understood this and know that they will not be able to convince their clients to put their money in funds labeled sustainable, but which contain gas and nuclear. On the contrary, they will be accused of greenwashing. We call on all financial actors to commit to excluding these two energies from any so-called green, sustainable or responsible product and bond.”

The EU’s own Platform on Sustainable Finance (8) as well as many sustainable finance professionals and groups – including the European organization Eurosif – have opposed the Commission’s proposal to include gas and nuclear and underlined it would sap the confidence in the new framework and make its usage more difficult. The European Consumers’ Association (BEUC) summarized this by denouncing “unacceptable institutional greenwashing”.

This position is shared by many financial institutions. The IIGCC (Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change) – an investor group made up of more than 370 institutions and with more than $50 trillion of asset under management – opposed the inclusion of gas, saying that it would “undermine the credibility of the taxonomy as well as the EU’s own commitment to climate neutrality by 2050”. Several individual financial institutions took similar positions on gas and/or nuclear, such as Mirova in France, Achmea in the Netherlands and GLS in Germany (9).

A summary of the content of the delegated act and a detailed analysis of the criteria used for fossil gas and nuclear is available below:

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Notes :

  1. The eligibility criteria for “transition activities” are reviewed every three years and are supposed to evolve to reflect technological advances and climate change. While the taxonomy sets a threshold of 100g CO2e/Kwh for the sustainable production of electricity and/or heat, the delegated act opens a specific derogation for gas. Until the end of 2030, gas-fired power plants emitting less than 270g CO2e/kWh and meeting certain additional conditions – such as the replacement of a fossil plant that cannot be cost-effectively replaced by renewables and the use of “low-carbon” gas by 2035 – will be considered sustainable. A detailed analysis of the criteria for gas inclusion is available here. Nuclear energy is included provided that certain criteria are met regarding waste management. States with nuclear power plants will not be able to export their waste outside the Union and will have to provide their own specific management and financing plans for waste management and the conversion of nuclear power plants. A detailed analysis of the criteria for nuclear inclusion is available here. Fossil gas and nuclear energy will be subject to specific reporting. For each indicator, the presence or absence of fossil gas or nuclear in the share of activities aligned with the taxonomy as well as the relative share of fossil gas or nuclear in these activities will have to be published.
  2. See Euractiv’s analysis of what it would take to reject the delegated acts.
  3. Other elements of the taxonomy are strongly criticized, such as the criteria established for the inclusion of intensive livestock farming or the use of European forests.
  4. Gas lobbyists had more meetings (about +9.5%) from January 2020 to May 2021 than from January 2018 to July 2020. Indeed, an initial Reclaim Finance report showed that gas lobbyists had 295 meetings in 31 months (about 9.5 meetings per month), while a second report shows that they had 323 meetings in 17 months (19 meetings per month) over a critical period for the future of the EU taxonomy.
  5. An initial Reclaim Finance report published in 2020 showed that nuclear lobbyists had 36 meetings in 31 months from January 2018 to July 2020, while data from a second report shows that they had 27 meetings in 17 months from January 2020 to May 2021. Therefore, the frequency of meetings between EU officials and nuclear lobbyists increased significantly during a critical period for the future of the EU taxonomy, from 1.2 to 2.59 meetings per month.
  6. Regarding the role of France, see Reclaim Finance’s 02/11 press release. The “alliance” of pro-gas and nuclear countries notably included France, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Four countries publicly expressed their opposition to the inclusion of gas and nuclear (Austria, Luxemburg, Spain and Denmark). Both Austria and Luxemburg signaled that they were ready to challenge the delegated act in court if it was adopted. Spain suggested that it could exclude nuclear and gas from its own green bond issuance. Germany clearly opposed nuclear inclusion but also lobbied for a broader inclusion of gas. On the contrary, Sweden and Netherlands only publicly opposed gas inclusion.
  7. The upcoming ISO taxonomy is scheduled to exclude nuclear and unabated gas, while the Russian taxonomy excludes fossil gas and the Chinese Green Bond Catalogue – previously known for including support to “clean coal” – significantly restricted it.
  8. The EU Platform on Sustainable Finance has strongly criticized the European Commission’s proposal in its opinion published on 24 January 2022. It states that the proposal does not comply with the taxonomy regulation and is concerned about its environmental and climate impact: 1) It stresses that fossil gas could only make a “substantial contribution” to climate change mitigation if its emissions are below 100g CO2/kWh. She warns that the 270g CO2/kWh threshold and other criteria proposed by the Commission do not meet the “Do No Significant Harm” (DNSH) principle of the taxonomy. It is concerned about the large volume of greenhouse gas emissions that the construction of power plants based on these criteria could generate in Europe over many years. 2) It insists that the criteria proposed by the Commission do not ensure that nuclear power does “no significant harm” (DNSH) to several of the sustainability objectives of the taxonomy and therefore cannot be included. It also states that nuclear does not make a “substantial contribution” to the 2050 carbon neutrality goal. The EIB’s president – Werner Hoyer – also stressed that financial institutions should not use the taxonomy to justify their support for projects contrary to the transition and suggested that they can choose not to finance gas and nuclear power to avoid any greenwashing.
  9. The CEO of French Mirova has spoken publicly against the inclusion of gas in the taxonomy. Several German financial players and the Austrian RBI have spoken out against the inclusion of nuclear. Dutch financial players – including Achmea and Triodos – issued a joint statement against the inclusion of both energies, while pension funds called on the Commission to respect the EU Platform on Sustainable Finance’s opinion. The Danish Folkesparekassen and Merkur Cooperative Bank have also spoken out against the inclusion of gas. The ESG provider ISS was also clear on the lack of positive sustainability impact of nuclear and gas.