The European Commission has decided to leave agriculture aside but has kept the controversial criteria for bioenergy and forestry in the first batch of proposed implementation rules to be presented on Wednesday April 21 as part of the taxonomy of the EU green finance, EURACTIV learned.
The draft implementing rules, reviewed by EURACTIV ahead of their announcement on Wednesday, set out detailed criteria that economic activities must meet to qualify as green investments in the EU.
Gas and nuclear power proved most controversial in the debate, with countries in southern and eastern Europe threatening to veto an earlier project because it did not qualify gas as investments “Green” or “transitional”.
Faced with a veto threat, the European Commission has returned to the drawing board. The EU executive’s new strategy is to take a two-step approach, dealing with less controversial technologies like renewables as part of a first set of implementing rules, while leaving gas and nuclear for the a subsequent decision of the European Parliament and EU Member States.
Bioenergy “ is no longer qualified as transitional ”
But although they leave out agriculture for now, the draft implementing rules cover bioenergy and forestry. This is a big problem for the Nordic countries, which depend on biomass for a large part of their energy needs.
On both points, the draft rules have been relaxed considerably. Regarding forestry, “changes have been introduced to reduce complexity and burdens especially for small logging operations” of less than 25 hectares, which will not be covered by taxonomic requirements, according to a leaked proposal obtained by EURACTIV.
The European Commission has also decided to “extend the deadline for demonstrating the climate benefits of forestry” and “to rely more on the existing sustainability criteria as part of the overhaul of the Renewable Energy Directive”, which considers biomass as inherently carbon neutral.
In addition, “bioenergy is no longer qualified as transient and bioenergy criteria have been aligned more closely with applicable European legislation,” says the project.
Critics say the Commission has decided to relax biomass sustainability criteria as part of an attempt to gain Nordic support on the draft implementing rules.
According to new statistics, the most used energy sources in Finland in 2020 were forest biofuels which accounted for 28% of its total energy consumption, beyond oil and nuclear energy which were around 20%. %.
“I criticize the forestry aspect,” said Pascal Canfin, a French centrist MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s environment committee.
Canfin says the 25 hectare threshold is too high because it leaves out two-thirds of logging operations outside taxonomic criteria. The minimum, he says, is to lower the threshold to 13 hectares, which is the average size of logging operations in Europe.
According to the French lawmaker, the Commission made the concession to the Nordic countries in an attempt to gain wider support for its taxonomic proposal, which is strongly criticized in Eastern EU countries for its strict stance on natural gas.
“The Commission is already facing enormous opposition from countries like Poland and the Czech Republic on the energy front. If in addition, it loses the support of the Nordic countries, it loses its majority on taxonomy in the European Council. His reasoning is pragmatic: he must avoid building a blocking minority, ”Canfin said.
For Canfin, it is not the Commission that is to blame, it is the Swedish and Finnish governments who have pushed to keep the biomass criteria as low as possible.
“The pressure from the Nordic countries, especially Sweden and Finland, has been colossal,” he told EURACTIV in an interview. What is surprising, he added, is that in both countries the Greens and the Social Democrats are in power. “So we come to the rather disconcerting conclusion that it is the Social Democrats and Greens of Finland and Sweden who are weakening the taxonomy. Well done!”
According to Canfin, the Commission must confront Sweden and Finland by introducing stricter green criteria on forestry and bioenergy in its next project.
“Will the green and social democratic governments of Sweden and Finland be ready to kill taxonomy on this subject?” This is the debate. For my part, I think the Commission should take this risk, ”Canfin told EURACTIV in an interview.
A debate rages in Europe on the role of biomass in the fight against climate change. While biomass is considered carbon neutral under EU law, scientists have warned policymakers that burning wood for power generation can worsen climate change, depending on the sources of wood used. .
Bioenergy criteria to be updated later
In its draft taxonomy rules, the European Commission argues that the bioenergy criteria of the taxonomy will be updated as soon as the EU revises its renewable energy directive, which will be rewritten in June.
“Future developments of the sustainability criteria for forestry will be taken into account in revisions to this delegated regulation,” said the EU executive.
But Sirpa Pietikäinen, a center-right Finnish MP, told EURACTIV that action must be taken now to reduce the climate impact of forestry, as trees are the only way to suck carbon from the atmosphere. and they take a long time to grow back.
“What if you tighten up the regulations after five years, and [biomass] is removed from the sustainability criteria of the taxonomy? ” she said.
“We have 20 years to solve this problem. And if now we give green certificates to cement existing forestry practices, I just ask what the result will be, ”Pietikäinen added.
“Some people will say that I am not fighting for my country. But you have to be honest, this is not a nationalist game, ”she said. “Finnish interests are hijacked by certain industries and then they are sold as national interest.”
> The full text of the draft proposal can be downloaded here: 1) Communication Hat; 2) executive summary of the impact assessment; 3) Delegated regulation; 4) Annex 1: Climate mitigation criteria; 5) Annex 2: Criteria for adaptation to the climate.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]