The EU greenwashed fossil gas. Today, we are suing.

Last July, EU policymakers decided to greenwash fossil gas. Today, the WWF European Policy Office, Client Earth, BUND and Transport & Environment are taking them to the European Court of Justice.

We are doing it to reassert a basic truth: all fossil fuels are dangerous for the planet. Only last summer, European cities baked under fierce heatwaves, rivers across our continent ran dry, and whole swathes of France, Spain, and Portugal were burned by unprecedented wildfires. In the midst of this devastation, the EU approved a new chapter of its supposed green investment guidebook — the EU Taxonomy — which stated that fossil gas-fired electricity is ‘green’. In fact, fossil gas is a fossil fuel that can cause plumes of methane that harm the climate just as badly as coal.

However, under the guise of climate action, the gas Taxonomy could divert tens of billions of euros from green projects into the very fossil fuels which are causing those heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. This is while scientific experts at the International Energy Agency and the United Nations continue to stress that we must halt any expansion of fossil fuels and invest exclusively in developing clean energy sources. Even the EU’s own experts have said we must use much less gas by 2030. The gas Taxonomy is not just at odds with the science: it also flies in the face of market dynamics. Renewable investments across the world reached $500 billion last year, which shows that there is already a massive, readily available alternative to gas-fired power.

For all these reasons, having previously filed a request for the Commission to review the gas Taxonomy, we are filing a case at the CJEU today. We will argue that the gas Taxonomy, and the Commission’s refusal to review it, clash with the European Climate Law, the precautionary principle, and the Taxonomy Regulation — the law on which the Taxonomy is built. It also undermines the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. We expect a judgment within the next two years.

Fossil gas at the heart of two European crises

Europe faces two interlocking crises: an inflation crisis and a climate crisis. Fossil gas is at the heart of both. Had we decided to invest with more determination in renewables and energy efficiency even just 10 years ago, our continent would not have been so dependent on energy imports. We would not have faced such great spikes in energy and food prices, which disproportionately hurt our poorest citizens. We would be closer to meeting our Paris Agreement goals.

Instead,  largely due to decades of industry pressure — the gas lobby spends up to €78 million a year in Brussels alone — our continent has remained extremely dependent on destructive fossil fuels. That dependency must end. It is high time to direct billions of euros into installing more renewables more quickly, with a focus on secure, cheap wind and solar power. It is time to expand the technologies to back them up, such as building insulation, energy storage, and strong grids. And above all, it is time to stop the lie that putting money into any fossil fuel will help the green transition. That is the purpose of our legal case.

Policymakers and financial institutions beware

EU policymakers are increasingly inserting references to the EU Taxonomy into other policies. If our case is successful, and the Taxonomy’s gas criteria are overturned, any legislation tying gas financing to the Taxonomy would become inapplicable.

Policymakers beware: the Taxonomy is on shaky ground, and you should not use it to justify new gas investments. Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off. They may even incur steep losses if they have made investments based on EU policies only to find that gas has been struck out of them.

Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off.

Financial institutions also face real reputational, financial and legal risks from the gas Taxonomy. Fossil gas is excluded from the global green bond market. Leading institutions such as the European Investment Bank or the Dutch pension federation have openly criticized the Taxonomy’s greenwashing. What is more, taxonomies in several other countries exclude fossil gas-fired power, so the European one lags behind. Any financial institution that uses the EU Taxonomy to justify investing in fossil gas assets therefore risks direct, robust and repeated attacks on its reputation.

The inexorable public policy shift towards energy efficiency and renewables, and the plummeting price of wind and solar power, have made fossil gas-fired power uncompetitive. Investments in more fossil gas, even if encouraged by the EU Taxonomy, would quickly result in stranded assets and could even cause billion-euro losses. Financial institutions must guard against these risks by stopping their support for gas expansion now.

Finally, if our case is successful, financial institutions could find they have purchased or sold products mislabeled as ‘green’. They must be careful to verify the legal consequences of such an event, particularly for its impact on any climate claims they have made.

Our message to the EU

Policymakers and financial institutions should note that the Taxonomy faces four further court cases: one from the governments of Austria and Luxembourg, one from Greenpeace, one from the Trinational Association for Nuclear Protection (ATPN) and another from MEP René Repasi. The EU’s greenwashing is now being discredited from all sides – amongst scientists, in financial markets, and soon, we expect, by the judiciary.

Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

Victor Hugo once said that nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. Today, despite much fossil fuel lobbying, denial and delay, it is the turn of the green transition. Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

See you in court.

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EU leaders must deliver a renovation wave that leaves no one stranded

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Even before the energy crisis struck, 50 million people across the European Union were living in energy poverty, unable to adequately light, heat or cool their homes, choosing between heating and eating.

Renovating the EU’s worst-performing homes, those that waste the highest quantity of energy — and often housing the most vulnerable families — will help tackle housing exclusion and improve living conditions.

Fixing Europe’s housing is key to eradicating energy poverty.

With 75% of Europe’s buildings deemed inefficient and 40% of our energy consumption taken by our homes, it seems obvious that housing renovations should be a priority for the bloc’s leaders.

This year is crucial to the well-being of millions

With the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or EPBD coming to an end, 2023 could be a watershed moment for the well-being of millions of citizens.

Europeans cannot afford to let valuable heat escape in the winter or let it creep in during summer.

Indecent housing leads to dampness, which can cause respiratory health issues, and cold living environments can worsen cardiovascular diseases.

Carbon monoxide poisoning and other intoxications go hand in hand with outdated temperature control methods using wood and coal, and/or fossil fuels.

Still, high indoor temperatures can be even more harmful, causing increased mortality rates during heat waves.

No one should be made to live in inadequate housing

The EPBD has the potential to offer a long-term solution to address energy poverty and improve living conditions for millions of Europeans.

This opportunity must be seized by prioritising the renovation of worst performing homes of vulnerable households and ensuring no one is locked into inefficient homes with dirty and outdated heating and cooling technologies.

Housing renovation incentives have been offered for decades, yet renovation rates are far below what is needed, particularly when considering the number of households faced with energy poverty.

Regulatory measures, including Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) throughout the residential sector, binding standards on indoor air quality and phasing out fossil fuels, are all necessary parts of the push.

To ensure the EPBD covers vulnerable families, MEPS need to be implemented alongside strong social safeguards and adequate outreach and funding programs to ensure the renovations benefit those who need them the most and don’t leave them stranded.

Energy efficiency and comfort for all

MEPS require buildings to meet a minimum energy efficiency standard within a certain period, giving them the potential to boost renovations in Europe’s most draughty and leaky buildings.

However, amongst the positive proposals within the EPBD, catastrophic exclusions are creeping in.

Negotiators have proposed a range of exemptions that will exclude some households from receiving renovations, meaning some of the people who need them most will see their dreams go up in thin air.

Allowing member states to be selective and exclude large percentages of the worst-performing buildings from the renovation plans drastically limits the directive’s ability to lift millions out of energy poverty.

Homes that have so far been ignored in renovation efforts will continue to be left out.

A key question EU decision-makers need to address when considering each and every single exemption is who is the renovation wave for and who is being excluded?

Overlooking MEPS for residential buildings means overlooking the EPBD’s potential to tackle some of the structural inequalities of our housing system.

To actually protect the energy poor, provide decent housing for all and be a way out of the energy crisis, the EPBD needs MEPS for residential buildings with stronger social safeguards.

Fossil fuels for no one

The energy crisis has shown us how exposed we are to the fossil fuel industry’s volatile prices.

It’s time to stop lining the fossil fuel industry’s pockets and start protecting ourselves by accelerating the energy transition, strengthening citizen engagement in the energy system and fully decarbonising our homes.

Renewable heating and cooling solutions on the market are numerous and are becoming increasingly affordable, offering comfortable home temperatures no matter the climate.

We need an EPBD that delivers these solutions into our homes by creating a policy framework that helps EU Member States rapidly scale up programmes that let households take advantage of energy savings and renewables.

Fossil fuel-based heating will become more expensive as infrastructure costs will be carried by a smaller number of homes, price volatility increases and the application of carbon taxations to households.

We need to lift millions out of energy poverty — and EPBD can do that

Opening the door to maintaining heating systems that use gas, with the excuse of alternatives like “renewables-ready” systems, including hydrogen, will not serve vulnerable or low-income households.

It will leave them locked into using expensive, dirty, and dangerous fossil fuels, which won’t offer cheaper bills.

To lift millions of people out of energy poverty, we need ambitious MEPS standards with strong social safeguards and a decarbonised heating and cooling system for all.

We need an EPBD that unleashes its full potential to help solve the housing and climate crisis.

Laia Segura from Friends of the Earth Europe and Javier Tobías from ECODES are part of the Right to Energy coalition, representing one of Europe’s largest groups fighting to eradicate energy poverty, bringing together trade unions, anti-poverty groups, social housing providers, NGOs, environmental campaigners, health organisations and energy cooperatives across Europe.

_At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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