EU faces legal action after including gas and nuclear in ‘green’ investments guide
European Commission accused of acting unlawfully in two separate cases bought by environment groups
The European Commission is being sued by environmental campaigners over a decision to include gas and nuclear in an EU guide to “green” investments.
Two separate legal challenges are being lodged on Tuesday at the European Union’s general court in Luxembourg – one by Greenpeace and another by a coalition including Client Earth and WWF – after the classification of fuels in the so-called taxonomy, a guide for investors intended to channel billions into green technologies.
The EU executive, argues Greenpeace, acted unlawfully when it designated gas and nuclear as bridge technologies in the taxonomy, which is intended to help meet the bloc’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Client Earth, along with three other NGOs, is challenging the inclusion of gas, which it says breaks the EU climate law that sets a legally binding target of reaching net zero emissions by the middle of the century.
The cases are the latest legal action against the EU’s “taxonomy for environmentally sustainable economic activities”. Last year a lawsuit was launched by Austria and supported by Luxembourg.
Eight national and regional Greenpeace organisations including France, Germany and EU office in Brussels are asking the court to rule the inclusion of gas and nuclear invalid.
Nina Treu, the executive director of Greenpeace Germany, said: “The taxonomy was meant to be a tool to meet the 1.5C target [on global heating] and make the European Union climate neutral, fostering social and economic restructuring for the European economy by shifting funds. Instead of hindering greenwashing, it has become a tool for greenwashing.”
Gas and nuclear had been included because of “politically motivated lobbying”, Treu said. Greenpeace will tell the court that gas cannot be considered a “transition fuel” because any gas-powered plant that comes online today will still be running beyond 2050.
The environment group will also say the construction of new nuclear plants – which usually take one to two decades to build in Europe – will delay the move away from coal power, hinder development of renewables, risk accidents and create pollution. “Nuclear is dangerous, expensive, vulnerable to climate change and too slow to stop the climate breakdown,” Treu said.
Greenpeace has hired the lawyer Roda Verheyen, who acted for the group in a landmark case that resulted in Germany’s climate protection laws being ruled inadequate by the country’s constitutional court in 2021.
Verheyen said the inclusion of gas and nuclear was not in line with the EU’s original taxonomy law. “The European Commission has violated the very idea of the taxonomy regulation. This is especially obvious as including nuclear activities does pose significant harm to the environment, which is expressly prohibited by the regulation.”
The lawsuit was “essentially an enforcement claim”, she said. “Observe your own law. Actually carry through with the European green deal,” she said, referring to the EU’s flagship climate plan.
The EU taxonomy became law in July 2020, but legislators left important details to be resolved through so-called delegated acts – secondary legislation meant for technical issues that is not subject to the same degree of ministerial and parliamentary oversight.
The campaign groups are challenging one of the delegated acts.
The separate legal challenge by the coalition including Client Earth and WWF covers the inclusion of gas but not nuclear. Anaïs Berthier at Client Earth said the European Commission had violated a requirement to make science-based policy and broken the EU climate law that required policymakers to carry out checks to ensure all actions by the bloc were consistent with the goal of achieving net zero by 2050.
“Labelling fossil gas as ‘sustainable’ is as absurd as it is unlawful,” said the coalition, which also includes the NGOs Transport & Environment and Bund. “It goes against the EU’s own scientific advice and fundamentally undermines the credibility of the EU’s climate action. Fossil gas is not clean, not cheap and not a secure source of energy.”
A judgment is expected in 2025, although participants expressed the hope the court would act faster. “There is confusion in the market, because the current law infringes European law,” Verheyen said.
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