March 5. 2024. 12:55

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The Green Brief: France’s pro-nuclear crusade has only just begun


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Paris scored an important victory this week when the European Commission tabled long-awaited rules defining what can be considered “renewable” hydrogen in the EU.

Under those rules, hydrogen producers must use only “additional” renewable electricity to power their water electrolysers in order to win the coveted EU label.

But France obtained a derogation from that principle, as long as hydrogen producers can demonstrate they are located in an area where carbon emissions from the power sector are lower than 18 gCO2eq/MJ.

And with its fleet of 56 nuclear reactors, France would easily qualify.

France, of course, won’t be able to label its nuclear-derived hydrogen “renewable”. Still, it is a major win for Paris, which finally obtained EU-wide recognition for the contribution made by its nuclear fleet to the bloc’s decarbonisation objectives.

“The work of persuasion that I carried out with my European colleagues has borne fruit,” French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said in a statement to the press on Monday (13 February).

End of story, then? Certainly not.

In fact, France’s crusade for nuclear power’s recognition in Europe has only just begun.

“The publication of these hydrogen [rules] recognises the decarbonisation efforts made by France. We now need to apply this logic to our renewable hydrogen targets in the RED3 directive,” Pannier-Runacher said in reference to the EU’s renewable energy directive, which is currently being revised for the third time.

“This is a hard point for France and for its partners and we are not there yet,” she warned.

For many, France’s insistence on crowbarring nuclear into the EU’s renewable energy directive goes a step too far. After all, the legislation is about renewables and nuclear has no place in it, they argue, echoing a widespread sentiment in Austria and Germany, which are staunchly opposed to atomic energy.

They may have to reconsider, though, because the French are dead serious about this.

Earlier this month, Paris sent a letter to the European Commission with eight other EU countries asking for nuclear power to be recognised in the EU’s targets for renewable hydrogen set out in RED3. Under the draft directive, these would be set at 42% by 2030 and 60% by 2035.

Similar to what was decided earlier this week, France is asking for those targets to be lowered, or weighted down, for countries that already have a decarbonised energy mix.

“This means taking into account the countries that have a low-carbon electricity mix, particularly with nuclear power, so that low-carbon hydrogen can be subtracted from this target,” explained an aide to Pannier-Runacher.

“We’re not calling into question the renewable energy objectives,” the aide clarified. Rather, Paris proposes to “take low-carbon hydrogen out of the denominator” when calculating renewable hydrogen targets for 2030 and 2035.

The concept is not just related to hydrogen, it transpires into every proposal France is pushing forward as part of the EU’s wider energy and climate goals.

Last month, a key French lawmaker in the European Parliament suggested that Paris would be ready to back a higher renewable energy target for 2030 if the objectives assigned to each member state are weighted according to the carbon intensity of their electricity mix.

More fundamentally, Paris says the EU has no right to dictate France’s energy mix, as long as the bloc’s decarbonisation goals are attained.

“This is the heart of the discussion,” said the aide to Pannier-Runacher, pointing to Article 194 of the EU Treaty, which gives EU member states full freedom to decide their energy mix.

“We don’t want to reach a point where we would have to explain to the Commission that a proposal is not compatible with the Treaty,” the aide warned.

The point about sovereignty is also essential for the eight EU countries that co-signed the letter with France. Together, they called on the European Commission to amend its renewable energy directive with a view to “preserve member states’ sovereignty and competences to decide their energy mixes”.

At the end of the day, this means putting a stop to the EU’s ever-higher renewable energy targets – at least for countries which have opted for nuclear.


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BRUSSELS. Belgian, Germany plan to double gas transit, build new interconnectors. Belgian and Germany agreed to link their hydrogen networks, double gas transit to Germany and conduct a study to construct a second electricity interconnector, the two states agreed at the first Belgian-German Energy Summit in Zeebrugge. Read more.

BERLIN. German Liberals could block climate projects after Berlin election fiasco. The coalition’s liberal FDP party could block green measures like new power lines and double down on building more highways to raise its profile among voters following its disastrous results in Sunday’s Berlin regional elections. Read more.

VIENNA. Austria hesitant to halt comeback of cheap Russian gas. Stopping the comeback of cheap Russian gas to Austria by adopting measures is something the government is hesitant about, citing concerns of expropriating government-owned assets. Read more.

PARIS. French highway companies could soon pay for green transition. Highway companies will also have to foot the green transition bill, French Transport Minister Clément Beaune told Le Monde in an interview published on Friday. Read more.

VIENNA. Austria slides back into dependence on Russian gas. Imports of Russian gas into Austria are approaching market shares last reached during pre-war times, as Gazprom is once again delivering the total contracted amounts, while deliveries from Germany and Italy are dropping. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria looks into excess spending after Bulgargaz-Gazprom fallout. Two ministers from former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s government and the former CEO of state company Bulgargaz are under investigation for allegedly generating millions in losses after Russia cut gas ties with Bulgaria last year. Read more.



European Investment Bank joins India Hydrogen Alliance. The vice-president of the European Union bank, Kris Peeters, signed on Wednesday (8 February) an agreement to join the India Hydrogen Alliance, committing to back investments in large-scale green hydrogen hubs and projects.

The EIB will work with the Indian government to develop a credit facility for public sector investments supporting the development of the green hydrogen industry, with indicative funding of €1 billion.

This facility will assist the Indian government’s efforts to commercialise green hydrogen technologies and reduce costs through investment in innovation, green hydrogen hubs, and pilot projects.

“Increased cooperation through the India Hydrogen Alliance will help to implement a national green hydrogen roadmap that delivers India’s energy transition and net-zero carbon plans while strengthening energy security in the years ahead,” said EIB Vice-President Kris Peeters, stressing that the bank has supported climate action in India over the last three decades. More on the EIB’s website here. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)

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Brussels relaunches green finance advisory group. The European Commission on Wednesday (8 February) unveiled the new mandate and appointed members of the Platform on Sustainable Finance, which advises the EU executive on sustainable finance – including the bloc’s green finance taxonomy.

Helena Viñes Fiestas, Commissioner of the Spanish Financial Markets Authority and a member of the UN high-level expert group on net zero pledges, was chosen as chair of the platform.

“The Platform will advise the Commission on the EU Taxonomy and the EU sustainable finance framework more broadly, with a reinforced focus on usability,” the Commission said in a statement.

Members of the platform will communicate with stakeholders to update the EU Taxonomy. For this purpose, a Stakeholder Request Mechanism will be established by the Commission.

“With this new mandate, the Platform will focus on usability to improve the implementation of our ambitious sustainable finance agenda. The Platform will also continue developing and updating the Taxonomy criteria in line with the latest technological developments,” explained financial services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

In September, five civil society organisations decided to leave the platform, saying the EU executive had interfered politically in decisions such as the controversial inclusion of gas and nuclear power in the EU’s green finance taxonomy. More information about the platform here. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)

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Scientists urge EU to tackle root causes of energy crisis. The European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change published an evaluation on 7 February of the causes and policy responses to the energy crisis and issued recommendations to policymakers on what should be done and what should be avoided.

While some of the measures taken to address the energy crisis could accelerate the EU’s transition to climate neutrality, “there is a risk that efforts to secure supply through the increased use of fossil fuels or soften the high energy prices through subsidies could delay the transition or even lead to long-term emission lock-ins,” they write.

To prevent this, the advisory board has issued eight recommendations: 1) Tackle the roots of the energy crisis: reduce demand, increase clean energy supply; 2) Save energy through efficiency improvements and behavioural change; 3) At least double the expansion rate for renewable energy; 4) Boost electrification to improve efficiency and shift away from fossil fuels; 5) Provide direct income support to vulnerable consumers; 6) Ensure that efforts to diversify gas supply are compatible with the long-term transition towards climate neutrality; 7) Ensure a sustainable supply and use of biomass while minimising pressure on food production and biodiversity; 8) Not invest in new coal and oil infrastructure.

The board was set up under the 2021 European Climate Law and consists of 15 senior scientific experts providing the EU with independent knowledge and advice. The full opinion is accessible here. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com).


  • What it takes to ecodesign for a circular economy – Valérie Boiten
  • Climate refugee crisis has landed on Europe’s shores – and we are far from ready – Ibrahim Özdemir
  • Is the EU ready for the next big climate battle? – Jens Mattias Clausen and Martin Birk Rasmussen
  • If done right, green industrial policy can create value for us all – Sebastian Mang
  • EU sustainability reporting standards must be taken over the finish line – Mirjam Wolfrum
  • An EU Renovation Loan can unlock €2 trillion of future energy savings – Peter Sweatman
  • How to prepare our grids for electric trucks – Julia Hildermeier

FEBRUARY

  • 27-28 FEBRUARY. Informal meeting of energy, transport ministers.
  • 27 FEBRUARY- 1 MARCH. World Ocean Summit, Lisbon.

MARCH

  • 2 AND 9 MARCH. Trilogue negotiations: Revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED).
  • 14 MARCH. Revision of EU’s internal electricity market design reform.
  • 14 MARCH. Net Zero industry act – European critical raw materials act.
  • 16 MARCH. Environment Council.
  • 22 MARCH. Consumers package:
    • Substantiating environmental claims
    • Sustainable consumption of goods – promoting repair and reuse (the right to repair)
  • 22-24 MARCH. UN Water Conference, New York.
  • 23-24 MARCH. European Council.
  • 28 MARCH. Energy Council.

APRIL

  • 18-19 APRIL. Informal meeting of environment ministers.

MAY

  • 17 MAY. Proposal for EU hydrogen bank.
  • 17 MAY. Measures to reduce the release of microplastics in the environment.

JUNE

  • JUNE. European Parliament Plenary vote on the EU Nature Restoration Law.
  • 6-7 JUNE. EU Green Week.
  • 19 JUNE. Energy Council.
  • 20 JUNE. Environment Council.
  • 21 JUNE. Greening transport package.
  • 29-30 JUNE. European Council.
  • 30 JUNE. Deadline for European Member States to update their revised National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).

SECOND HALF OF 2023

  • Q4. Revision of REACH regulation.
  • 26-27 OCTOBER. European Council.
  • 30 NOVEMBER-12 DECEMBER. UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28), Dubai.
  • 14-15 DECEMBER. European Council.