It’s time to stop using the sky as a waste dump. The climate doesn’t care whether the electricity comes from a wind turbine or a nuclear reactor. The climate just cares about carbon.” Dr. Caldeira

At the COP 21 Climate Summit in Paris, Energy for Humanity organised and hosted a series of high profile, well-attended events, including a sold-out screening of Pandora’s Promise and a major press conference for four of the world’s most renowned climate scientists.

 

The scientists — Kenneth Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, James E. Hansen of Columbia University and Tom Wigleyof the University of Adelaide — used the news conference to build on an argument they first made as a group in a 2013 open letter to environmentalists that to solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts not prejudice. Alongside renewables, nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets, or achieving them. The Guardian published a related op-ed from the four.

This event generated extensive global media coverage about the need for nuclear to be recognised alongside other low carbon technologies as a key part of the solution to climate change.

So why did these eminent scientists decide to come to Paris?

“I’ve come to see now that the magnitude of the problem is so great that we can’t afford to leave technologies unused that can potentially help.” Dr. Ken Caldeira

For nearly two decades nuclear power has been officially excluded from the multilateral UN climate negotiations process. Environmental groups successfully lobbied to keep nuclear out of the ‘clean development mechanism’ and other Kyoto mechanisms to garner carbon credits. Ever since then, nuclear has been off the table and the green groups who have a strong voice at the annual negotiations – together with big name backers like Al Gore and Bill McKibben – have insisted that a 100% renewables pathway is the only acceptable carbon mitigation option. That has become the mantra repeated by everyone, even the current UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.

“It is wrong to pit renewables against nuclear power. We need all hands on deck.” Dr James Hansen

But in light of the urgency of tackling climate change and nuclear power’s essential role in limiting temperature rises, the scientists argued that only a combined strategy employing all the major sustainable clean energy options — including renewables and nuclear — can prevent the worst effects of climate change by 2100, such as the loss of coral reefs, severe damages from extreme weather events, and the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide.

In their words: “Nothing should be off the table.”

The end result was a Paris Agreement that made a significant shift: away from a prescriptive framework driven by technology specific targets, and towards deep decarbonisation using all tools at our disposal. With just one mention of ‘renewables’ in the entire text, the Agreement is broadly technology neutral. This represents a significant step forward for the kind of flexible, ‘throw everything we have at this problem’ approach that is needed to solve climate change within the short time we have left to turn the tanker.

The direction of travel is clearly towards all of the above ‘clean energy’ innovation (including nuclear) with substantial support from both governments (through the Mission Innovation initiative launched in Paris by President Obama: ten countries pledged to double their clean energy research and development budgets) and private sector entrepreneurs (through the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, aimed at rapidly commercialising clean energy innovation, led by Bill Gates). These moves should result in a welcome increase in innovation and deployment in carbon free energy and industrial technology. Nothing less will do if we are to achieve deep decarbonisation in an energy hungry world, within the time we have left.

Kirsty Gogan

Director, Energy for Humanity