Press release: 4 February 2022

Environmental lawyers take first step to challenge EU taxonomy in Court

Environmental law organisation ClientEarth has filed an internal review request to the European Commission for unlawfully labelling bioenergy, bio-based plastics and chemicals used to make plastics as “sustainable” in the EU taxonomy.

An internal review request is the first step NGOs have to take before being able to bring a court challenge.

Brussels is facing resistance on multiple fronts to its sustainable finance taxonomy, a list that defines which economic activities can be labelled as "green" investments.

The first so-called “Climate Delegated Act” was adopted in June 2021 and has been applicable since January 2022. It classifies bioenergy, bio-based plastics and chemicals used to make plastics as activities that “contribute substantially to climate change mitigation or adaptation” and do no significant harm to the environment.

Environmental lawyers argue that the logic behind this is flawed. For example, scientists warn that burning wood for energy has a severe environmental impact and is far from carbon neutral, producing more CO2 emissions that burning fossil fuels and fuelling logging linked to deforestation.

Their request claims the Commission has infringed the Taxonomy Regulation by relying on flawed standards for biomass already provided under the recast Renewable Energy Directive, instead of assessing whether the available scientific evidence on biomass production is conclusive.

ClientEarth forests lawyer Filippo Mattioli said: “To claim that forest biomass significantly contributes to combatting the climate crisis is absurd. The Commission is currently encouraging investment into biomass under a false label of sustainability, disregarding the clear scientific warnings over the harm it will cause to the climate and biodiversity.

“Burning wood for energy means cutting down trees and depleting the world’s forests, releasing dangerous levels of carbon into the atmosphere while devastating the ecosystems and decreasing carbon sinks critical to a healthy planet.”

Lawyers are also challenging the labelling of bio-based plastics – plastics made out of biomass – and of bio-based chemicals, such as ethylene and propylene, used to make plastics. These are also classified as sustainable under the Climate Delegated Act.

ClientEarth plastics lawyer Tatiana Luján said: “Ethylene, propylene and the other chemicals in question are made of fossil fuels and they are mostly used to make single-use plastics – which release carbon into the atmosphere after they are disposed of. Bio-based plastics are also mainly used for single-use plastic applications. Classifying these as sustainable is not only stupefying, it’s also unlawful.

“As it stands, the EU taxonomy will only increase investment in plastics instead of promoting the much-needed shift to a circular model.”

The European Commission has 16 weeks to reply to this internal review request. If the reply does not fix the breaches of law, ClientEarth can challenge the decision before the European Court of Justice.


Notes to editors:

What is an internal review request?

Environmental NGOs such as ClientEarth have the right to ask EU institutions and bodies – in this case the European Commission – to review one of their own decisions if the NGO considers it to contravene EU law related to the environment. The Commission must officially reply to such a request within 16 weeks. If ClientEarth finds that the Commission’s reply does not fix the legal violation – for example if the Commission says that it thinks no legal violation occurred – ClientEarth can challenge the Commission before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

On 4 February, a group of NGOs from across the EU, supported by the Forest Litigation Collaborative (a collaboration between the Partnership for Policy Integrity (US) and the Lifescape Project (UK)), are also challenging the biomass energy and forestry provisions of the Delegated Regulation.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.