European Parliament bid fails to stop McGuinness ‘green’ gas and nuclear move

Irish commissioner spearheaded policy to have the two fuel types included in transitional taxonomy

A push to block a controversial proposal to add gas and nuclear to a list of activities deemed green failed in the European Parliament on Wednesday, avoiding an embarrassing defeat for the policy spearheaded by Ireland’s commissioner, Mairead McGuinness.

Both are now set to be included as transitional fuels in the EU’s so-called taxonomy, a key part of the European Commission’s environment agenda intended to set an industry standard for sustainable investment and drive cash into green economic activities that will help achieve the EU’s climate goals.

In the vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday, a majority of 328 MEPs voted not to block the move, defeating the 278 who voted to block it, with 33 MEPs abstaining.

Ms McGuinness issued a statement welcoming the outcome. She described the update to the taxonomy as a “pragmatic proposal to ensure that private investments in gas and nuclear, needed for our energy transition, meet strict criteria”.

“Investment in renewables is already prioritised in our taxonomy – this is our future. Our proposal ensures transparency so investors will know what they are investing in,” she said.

The Irish MEPs who voted to block adding gas and nuclear to the taxonomy were Left independents Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Luke Ming Flanagan; Sinn Féin’s Chis MacManus; both Green MEPs Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan; and Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews who broke with the majority of his Renew group to do so.

Those who voted to allow Ms McGuinness’s proposal to go ahead were four MEPs from her Fine Gael party – Seán Kelly, Colm Markey, Frances Fitzgerald and Maria Walsh – and Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fáil, according to the voting list. Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune did not vote as she was isolating due to a positive Covid-19 test.

The Irish Green MEPs condemned the development, issuing a joint statement to say the parliament had voted to approve “greenwashing”.

“Today’s decision sends a dark and dangerous signal around the world. The European Parliament threatens its own position as a climate policy leader,” said Dublin Green MEP Mr Cuffe.

“Energy lobbyists now see that many MEPs are willing to negotiate away our climate ambitions when faced with the slightest opposition,” he said. “This decision also ignores the pleas of Ukrainians who have spent weeks warning about the billions Putin is set to make from this proposal, which will go towards funding his murderous war in Ukraine. It is to our great shame that we have failed to reject this proposal.”

The Green MEPs further appealed for the parliament not to agree to add non-sustainable fuel sources such as palm oil byproducts and some food crops to those deemed sustainable aviation fuels, in a vote due to take place on Thursday.

“As the vote came in, young activists who had gathered in the parliament from around Europe to protest the decision cried out against this betrayal of climate action,” said Ms O’Sullivan, who represents Ireland South.

“This vote will not stop our work in Europe for a rapid and fair energy transition and a true European Green Deal. We owe it to ourselves and to our children.”

Sinn Féin’s Mr MacManus said the vote put gas and nuclear energy “on an equal footing with renewable energies” and that it was a “nail in the coffin of the EU’s climate goals”.

Campaign group Greenpeace announced it was prepared to take the commission to the European Court of Justice in a legal challenge against the taxonomy. The governments of Austria and Luxembourg have also previously warned they are prepared to take legal action if the commission goes ahead with the proposal, which is due to come into force in January.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times