Four environmental organisations have filed a lawsuit before the European Court of Justice against the European Commission for its decision to label fossil gas as a “green” energy source in the taxonomy.

According to ClientEarth, the European Policy Office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), and the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), the taxonomy’s Complementary Delegated Act (CDA) classifying gas and nuclear as environmentally ‘sustainable’ economic activities under certain conditions goes against EU laws, including the taxonomy, the European Climate Law, and EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement.

“The Commission has clearly unlawfully made this classification of fossil gas as ‘sustainable’, disregarding the assessment of its own scientific expert advice,”  said Marta Toporek, public finance lawyer at ClientEarth.

The Platform on Sustainable Finance, the Commission’s advisory body, had criticised the proposal to include fossil gas and nuclear energy in the taxonomy.

“The decision [to classify fossil gas as sustainable] is in contrast with the European climate law and the taxonomy regulation itself. It also violates the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. The Commission’s refusal to listen to our objections and correct its course is disappointing. We have no choice but to turn to the European Court of Justice,” Toporek added.

The NGOs are pushing the Commission to review the Complementary Delegated Act, with the court likely to hold a hearing in the second half of 2024, and a ruling that could come in 2025.

“Climate protection through fraudulent labels is unacceptable”

Olaf Band, BUND’s chair

The European Commission approved the taxonomy’s Complementary Delegated Act on climate change mitigation and adaptation in February last year, reaching a controversial political agreement on the text classifying gas and nuclear as green economic activities under strict conditions.

The European Parliament voted in July last year to approve the text that the EU commission considers a “pragmatic and realistic approach” to support member states’ efforts to transition to climate neutrality.

The decision came as Europe was trying to wean itself off Russian gas as a consequence of the war in Ukraine, with energy prices increasing, while member states are caught in a transition to renewable energy sources.

The environmental groups have now followed suit, challenging the EU commission in court, after threatening the European institution last year for its choice to consider gas as a sustainable economic activity.

BUND’s chair Olaf Bandt said: “We are going to [bring the Commission] to the European Court of Justice to have this bold form of greenwashing legally examined. Climate protection through fraudulent labels is unacceptable.”

The European Commission has, meanwhile, started a consultation on the delegated regulation establishing technical screening criteria to determine whether an economic activity contributes to achieving four environmental objectives of the taxonomy, including sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention and control, and protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.

The deadline for feedback is 3 May. 

The Commission has also proposed targeted amendments to the taxonomy’s Climate Delegated Act and to the taxonomy’s Disclosures Delegated Act, it said.

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