Gas lobby pressuring Europe to designate gas as ‘green’ energy

Climate Finance

Gas lobby pressuring Europe to designate gas as ‘green’ energy

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In reverse, China seeks a new “gold standard” taxonomy and rejects gas and coal for green finance.

It appears the EU is no longer going for gold.

The executive vice president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, has signaled that after months of debate, the bloc is considering a role for “natural” gas in the EU green taxonomy, a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.

This shift is despite a leaked document from members of the U.N.-backed Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance representing around 9 trillion suggesting that they are against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy.

Yet here we are.

If gas is recognized as green energy in the taxonomy, it would qualify for green finance.

Gas is a fossil fuel and like coal, is not green

It is very concerning that gas-powered generation could be seen as green. Gas is a fossil fuel that contributes carbon and methane to the atmosphere through its combustion, with lifecycle emissions that are dangerous and significantly worse for the climate than coal in the short term.

If gas is needed in the interim for manufacturing purposes or has a short-term role to play in decarbonizing economies, that does not justify gas projects being seen as green, nor qualifying for green finance.

Green or sustainable finance taxonomies fund assets or projects that deliver on climate objectives, helping to drive capital towards priority environmentally sustainable projects.

Putting gas in the EU Taxonomy, or any taxonomy for that matter muddies the waters.

If gas is recognized as green energy in the taxonomy, it would qualify for green finance.

Taxonomies are supposed to be factual and science-based. And the EU Taxonomy has long held the gold standard of green finance.

Gas industry lobbying for green finance inclusion

The ongoing controversy surrounding the EU Taxonomy has sent a concerning message to energy planners globally that gas industry lobbyists can’t be ignored.

After six months of resisting industry calls to add liquefied natural gas (LNG) to its green taxonomy, the South Korean government finally caved in October.

South Korea’s draft “K-Taxonomy” now also includes gas, prescribing an end-use emission technical screening criteria of 320g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour and a life-cycle emission standard expected to apply from 2025. This means new unabated LNG-power projects will qualify for green bonds and loans during the next four years.

The push by lobbyists for gas to be recognized as “sustainable” in both the EU and Asia indicates that gas corporations can see into their shrinking future. They are fighting for a place in the rapidly growing sustainable finance universe to expand the sources of capital available to them.

But the gas industry doesn’t need specialized green finance. As in the past, fossil fuel power projects will continue to raise funds through conventional sources of finance –– traditional non-labeled debt market instruments.

ESG investors need certainty

Classifying gas as green poses a significant problem for investors.

ESG lenders and investors want certainty that they are investing in truly clean and sustainable technologies, and rely on taxonomies as a guide on what those technologies are.

The push by lobbyists for gas to be recognized as “sustainable” in both the EU and Asia indicates that gas corporations can see into their shrinking future.

If taxonomies recognize gas as green, ESG investors may find themselves inadvertently backing the high methane and carbon fuel.

The new gold standard: China’s taxonomy rejects LNG, gas and coal

The situation in the EU could make way for China to take the lead in upholding high-quality green energy finance standards.

China’s new Green Bond Endorsed Project Catalogue –– its equivalent green taxonomy –– now excludes gas, LNG and coal-fired power activities.

Reading the market, China is showing it knows how to attract private capital.

Early this year, the People’s Bank of China’s Governor Yi Gang stressed that government funding alone would not be sufficient for China to meet its net zero goals –– forecast to require an estimated USD 22 trillion from 2021 to 2060 –– and therefore, market participants must be encouraged to step in and fill the gap.

President Xi Jinping’s pledge to accelerate the country’s transformation to a green and low carbon economy, and to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, has opened the door to a much more strategic view on how China’s green finance market should develop, and which technologies should be incentivized.

China is ready to take the reins from the EU. It understands that ESG-focussed investors have become more forensic in their research and decision-making on what the different taxonomies recognize.

Russia is also reading the tea leaves. It published its Green Taxonomy this week which only considers gas as “green” if it meets the same caveats as the EU. Taxonomy currently requires (i.e. lifecycle emission of <100g CO2/kWh). New gas projects will not be funded using green capital with such tough restrictions.

Energy planners are setting the stage for our future

As investors shift their focus to the sustainability credentials of businesses, policymakers will have to weigh the odds carefully. Somehow justifying the role of gas in decarbonization plans does not make them green investments.

The EU’s ambitions to be a leader in green finance standards means it has a responsibility to employ sound and defendable rationale that will set the tone for the rest of the world.

The EU’s Taxonomy backflip is not welcome.

Gas should not be recognized as a “green investment” in any taxonomy.

(This article first appeared in Responsible Investor)

Written by

Christina Ng

Christina NG is responsible for fixed income work in the Asia Pacific for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). She has 20 years of experience in financial reporting and has developed financial accounting and reporting standards in Australia and Hong Kong.