Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COP21 and the Nuclear Tool in the Workshop


French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius
 and his on-message gavel
How many times is nuclear energy mentioned in the climate change agreement signed by 219 countries this past weekend? None.

Wind, solar? None. Coal, natural gas? You guessed it.
Renewable –and sustainable - energy do get a mini shout out:
“Acknowledging the need to promote universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, in particular in Africa, through the enhanced deployment of renewable energy…”
But that’s it. You get the feeling that the directive-heavy agreement has nothing specific to direct about energy generators. Whether by plane, train or automobile (electric, if possible), its not how you get there that matters, it’s just that you get there. And this is the there:
Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change…
This is about what has been predicted as necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, but many commenters consider it very modest – especially because of concessions granted to get countries on board with the agreement and that it’s all voluntary -  so modest in fact that it has had considerable push back. I’ve read that the lack of a carbon tax turned a lot of people off it, but it likely would have turned off a lot of the negotiators, too.

Here is Bill McKibbon in the New York Times, trying a different approach:
So the world emerges, finally, with something like a climate accord, albeit unenforceable. If all parties kept their promises, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. And that is way, way too much. We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.
McKibbon, a big name in the climate change activist community – you can read more about him and his group, 350.org, here - recognizes that this accord points a direction in which virtually every country has agreed to go:
But what this means is that we need to build the movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action. … With every major world leader now on the record saying they at least theoretically support bold action to make the transition to renewable energy, we’ve got a new tool to work with.

So, let McKibbon focus on renewable energy if that’s his particular favorite – as we noted, the accord is not very specific on how to implement emission reduction. There is still plenty of room in the workshop for nuclear energy. If new build benefits the nuclear industry, fine, since it also benefits the world. Nuclear energy, it is fair to say, can do a fair measure to help achieve the goal set in Paris.

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