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UK must avoid the EU’s Taxonomy gaffes

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By Jon Hay
10 Jun 2021

Does the world need another taxonomy of what is green?

There are grave doubts. The first one, from the European Union, has got its criteria on forestry and biofuels so badly wrong that it blesses as “sustainable” many practices that make climate change worse and harm biodiversity.

Taxonomy supporters still insist its benefits outweigh the flaws. But whoever wins that argument, “the horse is out of the stable”, as one expert said this week. Taxonomies are spreading everywhere.

This week, the UK joined 20-odd other jurisdictions drafting their own. Since countries such as China, India, Russia and Malaysia will make their own rules, some might think the UK a sideshow. But its position between the EU — whose Taxonomy many UK citizens and residents contributed to — and the US, which is further behind, give the UK’s decisions a special influence.

For the sake of simplicity, some would prefer the UK to stick as closely as possible to the EU Taxonomy. But in two respects at least, the UK must diverge.

One is the heinous errors on forestry and biomass. Burning plants creates smoke — it only doesn’t increase emissions if you have created completely new forests or plantations, which is rarely, if ever, the case. Even then, it would be better to use them as carbon sinks.

The other is the EU’s foolish decision to start applying the Taxonomy in ways it was not intended for. The original idea — a disclosure standard for financial markets, so claims can be compared — makes some sense.

But the Taxonomy is not sufficiently detailed, scientifically robust, nuanced or flexible to be used as a guide for government spending. When the EU started to do that — including for its Next Gen EU programme — it guaranteed that the Taxonomy would be politicised and distorted.

By Jon Hay
10 Jun 2021