EU risks lawsuit after green update

Environmental campaigners are suing the European Commission after it classified gas and nuclear as “green” investments in the EU guide to sustainable finance, known as the taxonomy. Greenpeace is launching one of two separate legal challenges at the European Union’s general court in Luxembourg, arguing that the EU executive acted unlawfully when it classified gas and nuclear as “bridge technologies” in the taxonomy, which is designed to aid the EU’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Client Earth, along with three other NGOs, is challenging the inclusion of gas, arguing that it contravenes EU climate law which mandates achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The cases are the latest in a string of legal challenges against the EU’s environmental policies. Austria launched a lawsuit last year that was supported by Luxembourg. Greenpeace is asking the court to rule the inclusion of gas and nuclear invalid. Eight national and regional Greenpeace organisations including France, Germany and the EU office in Brussels are also involved in the case. Greenpeace contends that gas is not a “transition fuel” and that the construction of new nuclear plants will delay the move away from coal power, hinder renewable energy development, create pollution and pose a risk of accidents.

Greenpeace has hired Roda Verheyen, who represented 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 argues that the inclusion of gas and nuclear does not align with the EU’s original taxonomy law, adding that the lawsuit is an “enforcement claim”, asserting the need to comply with the European green deal. The EU’s taxonomy became law in July 2020, but legislators left key details to be resolved through so-called delegated acts, which are secondary legislation aimed at technical issues that do not undergo the same level of scrutiny as ministerial and parliamentary oversight.

The separate legal challenge by the coalition including Client Earth and WWF addresses the inclusion of gas but not nuclear. The coalition, which also includes NGOs Transport & Environment and Bund, argues that fossil gas is not a sustainable energy source and violates EU scientific advice, adding that it is not clean, cheap or secure. The campaigners hope for a speedy judgment, as the current law infringes European law and creates market confusion, according to Verheyen. A verdict is expected in 2025.

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