By MIKE CORDER and RAF CASERT
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders on Thursday are seeking to safeguard energy supplies to the 27-nation bloc while speeding up the transition away from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable alternatives.
The energy debate at Thursday’s EU leaders’ summit comes amid soaring prices that are pummeling households and businesses still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summit is being held 10 days before the opening of a U.N. climate summit that is widely seen as the last chance to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“The transition to clean energy is not only vital for our planet. It is also crucial for our economy and for the resilience to energy price shocks,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU legislators on Wednesday.
The debate on spiraling energy prices also takes place against a backdrop of frosty relations with Russia, a key supplier of gas to Europe.
Von der Leyen said with the bloc importing 90% of its gas — much of it from strategic rival Russia — “this makes us vulnerable.” Gas makes up one quarter of all European energy consumption.
Gas prices have soared this year, to 95 euros from about 19 euros per megawatt hour, affecting everything from household heating bills to farmers and food producers. The EU’s executive commission says that lower-income households are hardest hit because they spend a higher proportion of their income on energy. Many countries have already offered energy tax cuts to ease the pain.
While all leaders want to minimize the impact of soaring energy prices on their populations, they differ on how to do it.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has specifically blamed the hike on the Commission’s Green Deal plans that includes cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and making the bloc carbon neutral by 2050.
The current crisis has reignited a debate on whether the EU should promote nuclear power projects as a way of becoming more energy independent. That could be done by making them eligible for billions of euros as part of the European Green Deal and coronavirus recovery fund.
Two years ago, leaders agreed that nuclear energy could be part of the EU’s efforts to become carbon-neutral. However, they have yet to decide whether nuclear projects can be included in the so-called taxonomy, a classification system attempting to define what activities can qualify for sustainable investment.
France recently asked for the inclusion of nuclear power in the taxonomy framework by the end of the year, leading the charge with nine other EU countries — Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.
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