Press release: 19 September 2022

EU Taxonomy: Environmental groups start legal action against ‘sustainable’ gas classification

  • Four environmental groups are officially starting legal action against the European executive to stop the EU including fossil gas in its sustainable finance rulebook.
  • Gas is a potent fossil fuel that threatens European energy security and has led to sky-high energy prices across Europe.
  • The EU Taxonomy currently classifies certain gas activities as ‘sustainable’ investments.
  • The NGOs argue that this classification is unlawful as it clashes with a number of key EU laws, in particular the legal basis of the Taxonomy itself.

ClientEarth, WWF’s European Policy Office, Transport & Environment (T&E), and BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) are starting legal action to prevent fossil gas from featuring in the EU’s sustainable finance Taxonomy.

The Taxonomy’s Complementary Delegated Act (CDA), adopted controversially before the summer, gives gas a ‘sustainable’ label.

The groups argue the CDA clashes with other EU laws, in particular the Taxonomy Regulation itself and the European Climate Law. It also does not respect the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Gas is responsible for sky-high energy bills across Europe. It also has detrimental impacts on the environment – including the release of vast amounts of carbon and methane emissions.

This label risks channelling investments into this harmful energy source, away from genuinely sustainable sources of energy like homegrown renewables – and skilfully reducing demand in the first place.

A spokesperson for ClientEarth, WWF European Policy Office, T&E and BUND said: "Propping up gas, a fossil fuel which is currently at the centre of a cost of living crisis across the bloc, undermines the EU's fundamental aims of achieving cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy. To bring down people’s bills, secure energy supplies and protect citizens from climate chaos, the EU needs to stop greenwashing gas as ‘sustainable’ in the EU Taxonomy.

"The Taxonomy is supposed to be the gold standard for investments but, as it stands, this Taxonomy Act sends all the wrong signals to investors. It needs to be repealed."

The groups have been able to commence legal action through a request for internal review – a mechanism now open for use by NGOs and the public after a major reform of EU access to justice laws last year.

The groups request the EU Commission to repeal the Complementary Delegated Act. The European Commission now has up to 22 weeks to reply. If the Commission refuses, the groups will be able to ask the Court of Justice of the EU to rule.

The desired end result could be a judgement that forces the Commission to repeal the Complementary Delegated Act.


Notes to editors:

What is the legal procedure used in this case?

In 2021, a landmark reform of EU access to justice laws was approved. This has lifted the main barriers preventing NGOs and people from challenging environmental wrongdoings in court.

Environmental NGOs now have the right to ask EU institutions and bodies – in this case the European Commission – to review one of their own decisions for contravening EU law related to the environment. The Commission must officially reply to such a request within 16 weeks, a deadline that can be extended up to 22 weeks. If the claimants find that the Commission’s reply does not fix the legal violation, the claimants can sue the Commission in the Court of Justice of the European Union.

What are the climate impacts of gas and methane?

Gas extraction and transportation not only emits huge amounts of CO2, it is also a big emitter of potent and poisonous greenhouse gas methane, which is a whopping 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of climate change over 20 years. Methane is emitted through the drilling and extraction of gas from wells and its transit through pipelines. Beyond climate, methane also has devastating impacts on human health – via air pollution – and ecosystems.

Both the IEA and the IPCC have clearly said no new oil and gas extraction projects should be commenced if we are to keep warming within 1.5C. Additionally, a recent study found that nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if 1.5C is to be achieved.

Why does the legal action brought by ClientEarth, WWF EPO, T&E and BUND not cover nuclear?

We lack the technical and legal expertise to be able to challenge the inclusion of nuclear-based activities in the CDA.

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.

About WWF EU

WWF is an independent conservation organisation, with over 30 million followers and a global network active through local leadership in nearly 100 countries. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. The European Policy Office contributes to the achievement of WWF’s global mission by leading the WWF network to shape EU policies impacting on the European and global environment.

About Transport & Environment 

Transport & Environment (T&E) is a European umbrella for non-governmental organisations working in the field of transport and the environment, promoting sustainable transport in Europe. T&E’s vision is a zero-emission mobility system that is affordable and has minimal impacts on our health, climate and environment.

About BUND

BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) is a grassroot organisation with more than 650.000 members and supporters, dedicated to the protection of the environment and social justice. The foundation are more than 2000 local volunteer groups, who carry the regional and federal structures of the organisation. BUND is dedicated to a democratic decision making process within its structure and mainly financed through membership fees and donations.