Portuguese environmentalists demand government position over European Commission’s “disastrous” position on natural gas and nuclear energy

Portuguese environmental association ZERO is demanding a government position over the “disastrous” proposal – published by the European Commission just before midnight on New Year’s Eve – to consider natural gas and nuclear energy ‘climate friendly’.

The proposal was sent to European Union member states with the argument that nuclear and gas energy can help the bloc achieve sustainability.

It has predictably sparked a massive conflict: Germany, Austria and Spain have already made it abundantly clear that they think the whole idea is a “more than dubious” form of  ‘greenwashing’.

Germany’s economy and climate minister Robert Habeck stated the obvious: labelling nuclear energy as sustainable is simply “wrong” when one considers the long-term effects of nuclear waste.

But France is all for this idea – and according to some media outlets (for instance Deutsche Welle) this won’t ‘help’: France is currently holding the reins of the European Presidency (until June); “member states in the east and south of the bloc that are more reliant on fossil fuels have also defended gas as a possible transitional energy source” – and everything is pointing to the proposal, sneaked in as the wider world clocked off for New Year, being accepted.

This is why ZERO is so adamant that the government must show its hand.

The association accepts, “and applauds”, the fact that the government has already said nuclear is not its path. Portugal signed a joint declaration with Germany, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg at the COP26 in Glasgow two months ago calling for the exclusion of nuclear energy for European financing. (Germany and Spain are already in the process of dismantling nuclear facilities, in favour of renewable options). But natural gas? This is the sticking point: unlike neighbouring Spain, Portugal hasn’t declared its position.

According to ZERO, natural gas emits “large quantities of noxious greenhouse gases (mostly methane) throughout its chain of extraction and transport” – yet the RNTIAT for 2022-2031 (the Decennial Indicative Plan for the Development and Investment of national Liquified Petroleum Gas Transport, Storage Infrastructures and Terminals) suggests the government may not be overly-concerned.

Arguments for the development for example of hydrogen have involved ‘experts’ and even environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes talking about injecting small amounts of it into the natural gas network (click here) and (here)

In ZERO’s perspective, any continued use of natural gas – even watered down with hydrogen – is folly.

“Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5ºC do not leave space for fossil fuels, including fossil gas in the near future. A major fraction of renewable energy sources is the road to follow for greater resilience, energy independence and lower prices”, says the association.

But for the time being government silence remains as the focus of all parties this month will be fighting an election campaign.

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