The federal government says no – but only to nuclear energy. On the night of Saturday, Germany sent its statement on the so-called “green taxonomy” to Brussels, more precisely: on that part of this taxonomy with which investments in nuclear energy and gas-fired power plants are also to be declared sustainable. But while the federal government once again explains exactly why nuclear power is guaranteed not to be sustainable in a two-page appendix, it is far more lenient with gas-fired power plants.
Natural gas in “modern and efficient gas-fired power plants” is for a limited period “a bridge to enable the rapid phase-out of coal,” according to the five-page statement. In this way, emissions could be reduced in the short term and the expansion of renewable energies accompanied. A “clearly defined innovation path has been mapped out” in Germany for this, argues the federal government. “This is in line with the climate goals.”
With its taxonomy, the EU originally wanted to give the financial markets more clarity as to which investments are actually sustainable, i.e. also pave the way to climate neutrality. This should prevent “greenwashing”: Banks and funds should no longer advertise sustainable products that are in fact not sustainable.
However, the extent to which nuclear energy and natural gas can also help with decarbonization remained controversial for a long time. While nuclear power poses all sorts of other risks, it produces electricity with little carbon dioxide. Natural gas, a fossil energy, causes large amounts of climate-damaging greenhouse gases when extracted and burned. However, gas-fired power plants are considered to be a good addition to fluctuating renewable energies because they are flexible. Only: The Europeans could not agree on whether both therefore belong in a “green taxonomy”. In desperation, they tasked the Commission with deciding that it should settle the issue with a “delegated act”. The draft for this has been available since New Year’s Eve – and stamps both the atom and the gas green.
But while the new federal government is harsh on nuclear power with the decision, it is even demanding relief for natural gas. For example, the requirements for replacing old gas-fired power plants with new ones are too strict – according to the EU Commission, the latter should emit 55 percent less CO2. Germany is also demanding relaxation of the requirements for the future fuel mix. The federal government also wants new gas-fired power plants to be “hydrogen-ready”, i.e. to be able to switch to climate-neutral gases. But the Commission’s guidelines go too far.
They had demanded that at least 30 percent of climate-friendly gases be added by 2026 and at least 50 percent by 2030. These intermediate steps are “realistically unachievable” and should be dropped, the federal government demands. A switch to CO2-free fuels should be granted “flexibly” by 2036.
Environmentalists are appalled. “Even if a limited expansion of new gas-fired power plants is necessary as part of the phase-out of coal, this does not make a fossil fuel a green technology,” says Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Managing Director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe. “This will weigh heavily on the credibility of the federal government and the taxonomy.” The Left Party also sees the decision as a “devastating mistake”. The German public utilities, on the other hand, which operate many of the gas-fired power plants, welcome the statement. In this way, the coalition is showing “the will to shape things,” praises Ingbert Liebing, head of the municipal association VKU. Operators of gas-fired power plants recently expressed concern that banks could withdraw from financing if gas power was treated too strictly in the taxonomy.
Delicate situation for the Greens Habeck and Lemke
However, the decision is a difficult one, especially for the Green Ministers in the cabinet – after all, with their blessing, a fossil energy gets a sustainability seal. That’s why Robert Habeck and Steffi Lemke, the Green Ministers for Climate and the Environment, will also have their say on Saturday. In the gas sector, the Commission had been given “clarifications”, and on the nuclear issue, it was very clear. But then they add: “Should the delegated legal act remain unchanged and the Commission ignore the critical opinions of a number of member states, including ours, Germany should, in our opinion, reject it.”
In all probability, however, this would be more of a symbolic step. In order to vote away the Commission’s decision, Germany would need at least 19 allies among the member states. The rules of the EU require a majority of 72 percent of the states.