Paris climate change agreement very positive for nuclear power

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The major emphasis of the COP21 process has been on producing a global, binding agreement to cut carbon emissions. At the Paris meeting there was clear international agreement that reducing carbon dioxide emissions was a global priority built on a groundswell of public opinion in many countries, albeit with a range of different timelines involved. It was agreed to aim for a temperature increase below 2°C and with the aim of moving to 1.5 degrees, which suggests that governments will have to introduce additional mitigation actions to move more rapidly to low-carbon technologies, especially in electricity generation. The main and widely recognised implication (which fuelled some extravagant hype stigmatising coal) is that more use must be made of low- or zero-carbon energy sources, including nuclear power.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) described it as “nothing less than a historic milestone for the global energy sector” that would “speed up the transformation of the energy sector by accelerating investments in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency”. With wide support, a clean energy innovation fund is being set up to develop cleaner, more affordable and more reliable energy sources. Whatever the advances in electricity storage associated with intermittent renewables, there is now more clearly an inexorable logic for low-cost continuous reliable supply from expanded nuclear power. The IEA had already made it plain that achieving the 2°C goal would require a significant contribution from nuclear energy.

Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association said: “We welcome the commitments that governments have made, and the nuclear industry stands ready to help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.  This agreement should lead to a more positive outlook for nuclear investments, as nuclear is an important part of the response to climate change in countries across the world. What governments need to do now is convert the global agreement they have reached in Paris into national policies, including a progressive decarbonisation of the electricity generation sector. We have proposed that there should be 1000 GWe of nuclear new build by 2050 as part of a balanced low-carbon future energy mix. To achieve this, we need to see the introduction of energy markets with level playing fields which recognise the value of low carbon and reliable generation. We need to see the adoption of harmonised nuclear regulatory processes internationally. We also need to ensure that actions do not lead to clean nuclear power plants being closed prematurely and replaced with more polluting alternatives. Ongoing investment is also needed to help develop the next generation of nuclear technology, along with a clear and achievable pathway for deployment”.

Ahead of COP21, 188 nations had submitted their individual climate action plans, including how much they were intending to cut emissions. There is a wide range of targets in these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), from ambitious cuts by 2030 to almost doubling emissions by 2030, according to individual national circumstances.  Collectively the INDCs are projected to result in a global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels of 2.7°C, which is considered insufficient constraint.  National targets are not binding, there are no defined sanctions for failing to meet them, and they need verification anyway as well as five-yearly reviews ratcheting up the good intentions.  The EU October 2014 commitment to reduction targets was conditional upon other countries’ binding commitments, so may be in doubt. The US commitment is in doubt for political reasons. For China and India, the first and third largest sources of CO2, reducing poverty is a higher priority than reducing CO2 emissions.
Source: World Nuclear Association

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