Nine EU advisers threaten walkout over sustainable finance row

BRUSSELS, April 1 (Reuters) - Nine members of the expert group advising the European Union on its sustainable finance rules have threatened to step down if Brussels pushes ahead with plans that they say would discredit its efforts to fight climate change.

The European Commission is attempting to finish its sustainable finance taxonomy, a landmark regulation that from next year will define what can be labelled as a sustainable investment in the EU.

A leaked proposal for the rules, shared with EU states last week, would label as sustainable some gas plants that generate power and also provide heating or cooling. That came after the Commission’s original proposal -- which denied natural gas-fuelled power plants a green label, following the recommendation of the bloc’s expert advisers -- faced resistance from some EU countries.

Nine members of the 67-person “platform” advising the EU on the rules wrote to the Commission on Wednesday, saying the latest leaked proposal contradicted climate science and created reputational risks for them.

“Should politics and lobbying prevail over science, it is our responsibility to inform you that we would be forced to reconsider our contribution to the Platform,” said the letter, seen by Reuters.

Its signatories included finance experts from the campaign groups WWF, Transport & Environment and Romanian group Agent Green, and academics. The platform also includes representatives from industry and the finance sector.

The letter said the Commission’s proposed rules for gas, bioenergy and forestry would “openly discredit” EU goals to cut planet-warming emissions.

Gas should be denied a green label, while bioenergy and forestry should be temporarily removed from the rules and discussed in more detail, it said.

“The concept of what is scientifically sustainable, that’s really not for politicians to decide,” said Andreas Hoepner, a professor at University College Dublin who signed the letter.

“We have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to do something right,” said Monique Goyens, director general of the non-profit European Consumer Organisation, another signatory.

The Commission said it does not comment on leaked documents, and was finalising the proposal based on input from EU countries and the European Parliament.

“This will be subject to an assessment for the development of a scientifically robust delegated legislation,” an EU official said, referring to the rules on gas.

EU countries disagree on what role natural gas should play in meeting climate goals. Gas emits roughly half the CO2 of coal when burned in power plants, but gas infrastructure is associated with leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. (Reporting by Kate Abnett, Editing by William Maclean Editing by John Chalmers, William Maclean)