These are challenging times for Mauricio Vargas. In late June, the Greenpeace financial expert still spoke of an encouraging signal. The members of the Environment and Economic Affairs Committee had just voted by a majority against the inclusion of gas and nuclear power in the EU taxonomy, which is intended to stimulate investment in green energies.
Less than two weeks later, it was clear that the signal had no effect. In the end, there were not enough votes of the EU parliamentarians to stop the expansion of the EU taxonomy. Starting next January, investments in certain gas and nuclear power plants in the European Union can be classified as climate-friendly. “This will make it easier for the financial industry to simply relabel existing financial products green,” Vargas criticizes.
Less greenwashing in the financial world
For almost two years, the economist has been campaigning at Greenpeace for a greener financial world. Among other things, Vargas criticized climate-damaging Bitcoin mining. “Every Bitcoin user should ask themselves whether Bitcoin is worth risking the stability of our ecosystems,” he warns, for example.
Vargas also lashed out at the European Central Bank. It was too slow on climate protection and favored carbon-heavy companies with its bond purchases. Most recently, the 42-year-old called for a price cap on Russian gas imports. Similar to a punitive tariff, this would make exports to Germany more expensive for Russia. The money could be secured in a fund and used for reconstruction in Ukraine, the environmental activist demanded.
And now the EU taxonomy: The EU has missed the opportunity to create credible minimum standards for financial companies, he complains. The greenwashing allegations against Deutsche Bank subsidiary DWS have just shown where this can lead. Following accusations that the fund company was marketing financial products as too green, police and public prosecutors searched Deutsche Bank and DWS in June of this year.
Vargas knows the financial industry well: He worked for a fund company for ten years after he studied international economics in Tübingen and then earned his doctorate on financial stability and currency crises in developing countries and emerging markets. He spent 1.5 years in Mexico during his studies. A country to which Vargas also has a personal connection – he was born in Mexico City.
Analyses for campaigns and lawsuits
The fact that he was able to get to know the perspective of a less prosperous country that had already experienced several severe economic crises left its mark on the economist. In 2020, after ten years, he quit the Frankfurt-based fund company and started working for Greenpeace. “It gnawed at me for a long time that I couldn’t live up to my standards of what I actually wanted to achieve,” he says.
Today, he speaks of a successful “change of sides,” even if not much has changed for him content-wise. He continues to work on economic analyses. The only difference is that they no longer help with investment decisions. Instead, Vargas uses them to support the political demands of the environmental organization. For the step “out of the golden cage,” as he calls it, he gives up half of his previous salary.
One of the most important campaigns he has accompanied at the environmental organization so far was the one on the ECB. Last year, Greenpeace literally laid siege to the European Central Bank (ECB): Sometimes they symbolically melted ice in front of the building, sometimes they landed on the premises of the central bank with paragliders. The primary accusation was that the ECB invested billions in energy companies that were damaging the climate.
Vargas himself is usually not actively involved in such campaigns on the ground. That is done by volunteers, he says. But he briefs the activists and assists with press work – with success. Last summer, the ECB announced a change of course: Starting in October, the central bank plans to spend at least €30 billion a year in a more climate-friendly way.
By now, it is also clear that the economist’s sharp criticism of the EU taxonomy will not stop there: Greenpeace has announced plans to file a lawsuit. Before doing so, the organization will submit a formal request to the Commission for an internal review. As soon as this is completed and leads to a negative result, the environmentalists want to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. Vargas and his colleagues will coordinate the lawsuit. Pauline Schinkels