UNEP’S MIXED SIGNALS ON CLIMATE CHANGE

The Minerals Council of Australia’s Uranium Forum is surprised by reports that the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is blocking the nuclear industry from participating in an international forum on clean energy. 

This decision by UNEP sends mixed signals about the challenge of further developing the world’s energy systems to provide reliable electricity to a growing global population, over a billion of which still today do not have access, while reducing emissions.

It is inconsistent with the strong messages by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which in its 2014 report said ‘No single mitigation option in the energy supply sector will be sufficient … Achieving deep cuts [in greenhouse gas emissions] will require more intensive use of low-GHG technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear energy, and CCS’. 

Meeting the global challenge of reducing emissions while continuing economic development requires the collaboration of industries, governments and institutions. Achieving this collaboration will not be assisted by the decision to exclude the World Nuclear Association.

According to the International Energy Agency’s Key World Energy Statistics, nuclear energy (11 per cent) along with hydroelectric power (16 per cent), provided the lion’s share of the world’s zero emissions electricity supply in 2015. 

Nuclear energy contributed 2571 TWh of electricity in 2015, compared to 838 TWh from wind and 247 TWh from solar.

To exclude nuclear from the Sustainable Innovation Forum undermines its credibility, particularly in light of increasing calls from environmentalists and conservationists for green groups to reconsider their opposition to nuclear energy. These include an open letter by 77 of the world’s leading conservation scientists, and the rise of organisations like Time Magazine’s ‘ Hero of the Environment’ Michael Shellenberger’s Environmental Progress, and environmental campaigner Kirsty Gogan’s Energy for Humanity.

The future of nuclear energy will be driven by the world’s increasing appetite for reliable, affordable power with low emissions. 

And increasingly, the development of new nuclear designs which are often smaller (requiring less up front capital than the large reactors being built in fast growing markets today), and are designed to operate flexibly (in grids with increasing amounts of intermittent electricity generation requiring fast response), will play an increasing role – one that would be particularly relevant for Australia’s energy challenges.

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