Nuclear energy is “green”: now what?

By Manuel Protásio (PhD Candidate at the University of Minho)

In the beginning of July this year, the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal on labelling natural gas and nuclear power as climate-friendly investments. For the first time, Parliament did not object to the Commission’s Taxonomy Delegated Act to include specific nuclear energy activities, under certain conditions, in the list of environmentally sustainable economic activities covered by the so-called EU Taxonomy. Although it is still early to read anything else besides the actual change in the taxonomy of the European Commission, the truth is that this conceptual change regarding nuclear energy can be seen as a major political statement regarding the future of energy in the European Union.

From a political point of view, it can be argued that this change comes from the urgent and dramatic context we are currently in, due not only to Climate Change but also to the geopolitical shift that has risen from the Russia’s war with Ukraine. Within this new global context, European Union’s political landscape also changed, particularly in what concerns energy policy and I believe this new taxonomy given to nuclear energy is also part of this new political landscape. Nevertheless, it is not our intention to bring forward a political analysis to this shift in European policy regarding nuclear energy, but to give a brief overview of whether nuclear energy should be labelled as a green energy and a climate-friendly investment and if so, how can this change help European Union’s objectives in becoming more self-sustainable in terms of energy production as well as achieving its goals under the Green Deal.

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The EU Circular Economy Strategy: a strong step towards more ecological products design and manufacturing?

Beltrán Puentes Cociña (PhD Candidate at the University of Santiago de Compostela) 

Humanity has been engaged in the struggle for sustainability for at least 30 years. Since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, there have been many political, economic, and social initiatives for a sustainable development that makes human activities compatible with the ecological limits of the planet. One of the latest and most relevant is the circular economy strategy[i]/[ii].

1. The first EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy (2015)[iii]

The current model of production and consumption follows a linear sequence. It is based on the extraction of natural resources, the mass manufacture of products, the over-consumption of short-lived products and the generation of a huge amount of waste that is either incinerated or landfilled. Growth policies encourage the demand for more and more products, so that a country’s economy grows when its consumption and production increase.[iv]

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Editorial of August 2021

By Daniel Silva (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho) 

The fight against greenwashing in the EU

In January of 2021, the European Commission and national consumer authorities shared their conclusions pursuant to a screening of websites performed to identify breaches of EU consumer law in online markets focused on greenwashing practices[1]. This screening included a variety of online green claims from a wide range of business sectors, including cosmetics, clothing, and household equipment. The results estimated that 42% of analyzed claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive and could even potentially be considered unfair commercial practices under EU law. The sweep also concluded that the practice of greenwashing has been growing as consumers demand in green products also grows.

The term greenwashing was coined by the American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, at the time regarding the practice of the hotel industry incentivizing the reuse of towels for environmental reasons, when in fact it was a ploy meant to increase their margin of profit[2]. The EU defines greenwashing as “companies giving a false impression of their environmental impact or benefits”. This, however, does not seem to encompass the magnitude and many facets that greenwashing has. There is not a unanimous agreement on a precise definition of the term, however, most definitions agree on two aspects about greenwashing: there is repression on information that suggests the company might be environmentally unfriendly and a strong push on having an environmentally friendly image. Hence, we can see greenwashing as a phenomenon of selective information disclosure on the environmental impact of a certain product or service that does not necessarily correspond to reality or is even false. We can look at greenwashing as somewhat of a marketing strategy, capitalizing on the growing consumer environmental conscience that has been on the rise in recent years. Therefore, the companies that practice greenwashing do not actually have any real environmental concern, focusing purely on economic gain.

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Options for keeping the Common Agricultural Policy within the Green Deal

by Rafael Leite Pinto (Master in EU Law – University of Minho)

1. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) goals within the Green Deal

Presented in 2019, the Green Deal intends to pave the road for a sustainable European Union, cutting emissions by 40% until 2030 and achieving carbon-neutrality by 2050. At her first State of the Union speech, commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen updated the 2030 goal to 55%, following the Parliament’s goal of cutting emissions by 60%.  Within the Green Deal, the Commission revealed several strategic plans including the “Farm2Fork Strategy” and “Biodiversity Strategy”. These plans unveiled the most ambitious goals ever when it comes to reducing the environmental impacts of food production, such as a 50% reduction in pesticide use until 2030; 50% reduction in soil nutrient loss; 50% reduction of antibiotic use in animal farms; increase of the total share of organic farming land to 25%; establish 30% of land and sea as protected areas; plant 3 billion trees; halt and reverse the decline of pollinators; and invest 20 billion euros per year on biodiversity.

Despite the bold target setting, several issues related to the implementation of the necessary measures have been raised. Mainly the compatibility of the proposed Common Agricultural Policy post-2020 and the established goals. The first proposal by the Commission, published in 2018 showed some improvement in agri-environmental measures but was largely classified as insufficient[i],[ii] even for the less demanding goals at the time. In its “How the future CAP will contribute to the EU Green Deal” document, the Commission refrained from further developing the proposal, repeating the previously announced measures. That said, a later published Staff Working Document[iii] concluded that the proposed CAP could have a potential contributory effect to the Green Deal goals, as long as it was approved by the Parliament and the Council in the exact terms proposed, or more demanding ones. Problem is, historically, CAP proposals are diluted in the trilogue and this time was no different. At the end of 2020, a final agreement was reached, and the new CAP was voted in what has been classified by NGO’s as “a kiss of death” for nature in Europe[iv]. Both, the Parliament and the Council voted to soften the proposed agri-environmental measures leading to public outrage and campaigns such as “#votethisCAPdown” and “scrapthisCAP”. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) accused the European Union’s institutions of ignoring the Green Deal and the evidence when it comes to agriculture’s environmental impacts[v]. For Greenpeace, the new CAP represents the death of small farmer’s and possibly the Green Deal[vi].

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