Hours before the European Commission announced higher climate objectives for 2030, the European Parliament voted to allow funding for fossil gas projects under the bloc’s flagship Just Transition Fund.
The Parliament’s position, voted on Tuesday evening (15 September), will now be transmitted to EU member states for a final round of negotiations over the shape and size of the new €17.5 billion fund.
In a vote earlier this year, EU countries voted to exclude all fossil fuels from the fund, setting the Parliament on a collision course with the Council of Ministers, which represents the 27 EU member states.
Both sides need to agree on an identical text before the fund can become operational.
Green campaigners railed against the Parliament’s decision. “It’s simple: MEPs just agreed that taxpayer money can be used to pay for fossil gas, risking locking us in to stranded assets and climate pollution, and ramping up the costs of the transition,” said Katie Treadwell from WWF.
“By allowing fossil gas in the fund, MEPs have condemned Europe’s fragile regions to decades more polluting energy,” added Raphael Hanoteaux, EU funds policy officer for CEE Bankwatch Network.
“This hampers the EU’s prospects to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and shows that MEPs are still unable to walk the talk when it comes to closing the European Green Deal, especially now that the Commission has announced a new target of 55% for greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030.”
The fund was initially designed to support the EU’s most fossil fuel-dependent regions in their transition to a low-carbon economy, while limiting the economic and social impacts. Its scope was later expanded during the negotiations to allow funding for energy projects as well.
Green MEPs and the head of the Parliament’s environment committee, Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe), tried pushing for the exclusion of fossil fuels from the fund but they ended up being defeated when the bill came to a vote in the Parliament’s plenary.
“Unfortunately, there is no majority in the European Parliament to exclude the financing of investments in gas projects under the Just Transition Fund,” Canfin said in a statement.
However, the French MEP and the Greens did manage to limit the scope of the fund to “a very limited number of gas projects” which are deemed compatible with the EU’s carbon neutrality target for 2050 and updated climate goals for 2030.
Gas funding will also be reserved to the fifteen EU regions which are highly dependent on coal and as a way to accelerate the phase-out of the most polluting plants, Canfin remarked, saying this will come as a benefit to the climate at least in the short run.
Finally, Canfin recalled that the Parliament vote was only an “intermediary step,” saying final “trilogue negotiations” will now take place with the member states and the Commission, which took a clearer stance to exclude all fossil fuels from the fund.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]