BRUSSELS — In a landmark vote for Europe’s climate and energy policies, lawmakers said on Wednesday that some gas and nuclear energy projects should be considered “green” and receive access to cheap loans and even state subsidies.
A European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, France, voted in favor of accepting a proposal by the European Commission, the E.U. executive, with 328 votes backing the proposal and 278 against.
Both inside the parliamentary chambers and outside the building, detractors of the policy booed in protest.
The commission’s proposal to label gas and nuclear as “green” is part of a broader new E.U. law that classifies various types of energy investments as environmentally friendly, and lays out detailed rules on how to assess them.
The policy, known as the “taxonomy,” is meant to stop “greenwashing,” the pervasive practice of mislabeling energy projects as environmentally friendly. It would also give the bloc, which brings together 27 industrialized and wealthy nations, added wiggle room as it scrambles to replace Russian energy sources in its effort to penalize the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine this year.
But the classification remains controversial in environmental circles. Critics of the proposal contend the attempt to classify gas and nuclear projects as green is in itself “greenwashing” and runs counter to European efforts to slash carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Europe’s decision is likely to reverberate well beyond the region’s borders as its policy may be held up as a global benchmark and replicated in other parts of the world, according to experts.
A “green” classification for gas and nuclear provides financial incentives for European countries and companies to invest in those energy sources, and, critics say, would delay fully switching to renewable sources that are much better for the environment, such as wind and solar energy.
The European Commission has said that it knows that gas and nuclear are not perfectly aligned with environmental goals, but that it still considers them important in Europe’s transition from its current energy mix toward a carbon-neutral future. It calls gas a “low emission” fuel, which is accurate, but only if compared to coal, which is very polluting.
These goals, and the means to achieve them over the next few decades, are key to Europe’s efforts to lead the world on climate policy. But they have also become central to its stand against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
So far E.U. nations have banned Russian coal and most will phase out even the import of Russian oil, but they remain especially dependent on Russian natural gas for electricity and heating.
Russia has used its gas exports to Europe as a lever to exert pressure on the European Union. The bloc is trying to get gas from other sources, such as Africa, the Middle East and the United States, but is far from banning the Russian imports because it needs them too much.