EU green label for gas ‘not necessary’, says Germany’s Habeck

Germany's Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck visited Brussels to talk Ukraine, taxonomy and gas. [EC/Dati Bendo]

In a visit to Brussels on Tuesday (25 January), the German Vice-Chancellor reiterated his opposition to nuclear’s inclusion in the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, saying “we don’t need” a green investment label for atomic power – and nor for gas either.

The European Commission put forward proposals in December to label gas and nuclear power as a “transitional” source of energy under the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, which regulates which types of investments can be considered “green”. 

But Habeck, the most senior member of the Greens party in the German coalition, said those rules weren’t necessary.

The proposal, “which in my view contradicts the very idea of the taxonomy by designating gas and nuclear as eligible for financial markets…would not have been necessary,” Habeck said in Brussels on Tuesday (25 January).

“We don’t need it,” he insisted.

However, if the proposal came to pass, it would have to be more specific on gas, the Vice-Chancellor continued, saying the taxonomy should neither “over subsidise nor under subsidise” fossil gas.

Although gas is not a destination fuel, Germany and other countries would need an “infrastructure of power plants that can burn gaseous fuels” in the transition to a zero-carbon economy powered by renewables, he pointed out. 

In its feedback to Brussels over the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, Berlin called on the European Commission to delete requirements that would see a 55% share of hydrogen or biomethane blended in gas-fired power plants by 2030. For 2026, the share would be 30%, according to the Commission’s draft.

However, those targets “are not realistically achievable,” Berlin warned in a letter sent to Brussels on Friday (21 January).

“Once we have hydrogen, it probably won’t be the smartest thing to burn it,” explained Habeck, noting that industry could achieve much higher CO2-savings than the energy sector if it switched to hydrogen.

On nuclear, Habeck stuck to the government’s line: “If nuclear energy stays in the taxonomy as proposed, Germany should vote no.” 

Germany takes firm pro-gas stance in green taxonomy feedback to EU

In its feedback to Brussels over the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, Berlin reiterated its opposition to nuclear power while calling on the European Commission to ease restrictions on fossil gas in the transition to a low-carbon energy system.

Ukraine and gas crisis

Habeck met with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen the day after EU foreign affairs ministers had met in Brussels to coordinate a response to Russia’s military build-up at the Ukrainian border.

The main issue on the agenda was the “possibilities or rather the necessity to react to an escalated conflict with sanctions,” Habeck told journalists in front of the European Commission’s Berlaymont building.

However, Germany’s dependence on gas imports from Russia continue to be an important consideration in the developing conflict, as Europe continues to grapple with an energy crisis caused by fossil gas shortages and low storage levels.

With energy prices at an unprecedented high, calls for price controls or changing market mechanisms have found little resonance in Berlin. “We want a market driven mechanism,” he explained, adding that the high price was driven “by the demand for gas and fossil energies” which would push the market towards cheaper renewables.

Habeck also spoke about “the supply security and situation of Europe and Germany with a view towards gas deliveries” in Brussels, he said. Another topic is “the strategy to become more independent from fossil energies.”

“Now we see that geopolitical and security issues are combined with the two major crises of our time. Climate policy, the phase-out of fossil fuels, also strengthens Europe geopolitically and protects the climate.”

Germany signals it could halt gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine

Germany signalled on Tuesday (18 January) that it could halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine, and Western nations rallied behind Kyiv over a Russian troop buildup that has stoked fears of war.

Fast tracking EU climate laws

The EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package of energy and climate laws, tabled in July by the European Commission, aims to achieve a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

And Habeck’s trip to Brussels provided an opportunity for Habeck to exchange in person with the Commission’s top brass.

Accompanied by former EU lawmaker Sven Giegold, who is now Habeck’s right-hand man for EU affairs, the Vice-Chancellor noted that France “wants to progress with great ambition” on the ‘Fit for 55’ package during its six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.

The French ambition is not limited to a single aspect, but includes “all areas: buildings, efficiency, transport, but also complicated dossiers like CBAM, the international carbon border adjustment mechanism,” Habeck explained.

“We know, of course, from all European processes how complicated it always is to bring all member states under one umbrella, and the great ambition is then sometimes quickly talked to smithereens.”

Still, Habeck said he was “full of hope” that negotiations can be concluded swiftly in some areas.

“This concerns the renewable energy directive and the energy efficiency directive – I think a consensus can be found relatively quickly there”.

Habeck’s remarks echoes demands from Green EU lawmaker Michael Bloss, who called on EU institutions to fast track the renewable energy directive and the energy efficiency directive.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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