On the ground at COP 21: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly … so far

The nuclear industry is well-represented inside the conference hall; anti-nuclear groups haven't been allowed to set up information booths.

The nuclear industry is well-represented inside the conference hall; anti-nuclear groups haven’t been allowed to set up information booths.

Last Saturday, December 5, two NIRS staff arrived in Paris and joined anti-nuclear colleagues from across Europe for the United Nations climate conference. Officially, this is the 21st Conference of Parties on climate, or COP 21 for short. All year, we have been working as part of the Don’t Nuke the Climate coalition, preparing to mobilize thousands to COP 21 under the nuclear-free, carbon-free banner we flew at the People’s Climate March in New York City last year. That march was, in fact, the first wave of grassroots mobilization to fight for a strong, legally binding climate treaty. Especially with the conference happening in the most nuclearized country in the world, we’ve expected a major push to turn climate action into a feeding trough for poison power. And our expectations have not been disappointed.

The good news so far is that nuclear is not even mentioned in the drafts of the climate agreement presented over the last several days. There have been enough countries opposed to nuclear for there to be zero consensus on what to say about it: not a solution, not a problem, no clear direction at all. That might sound good, and is better than an agreement that promotes nuclear power.

But you wouldn’t know that by actually attending the COP. The nuclear industry and its governmental allies in the U.S., France, and elsewhere are here in force–with exhibit booths and events promoting nuclear power as a climate solution–whereas no explicitly anti-nuclear groups have been allowed to have an exhibit booth or hold an official event. Those decisions were made before the prohibition on public protests after the horrible violence on November 13 that have dampened the voice of protest outside the UN conference grounds. But they underscore the influence of corporate sponsors at the COP–like Electricite de France (EDF), the largest nuclear power company in the world. The industry is desperately trying to make itself seem relevant in the face of global stagnation, and avoid accelerating into rapid decline.

Of particular concern are the actions of the U.S. government here. Three months ago, the Obama administration enacted the U.S.’s first major climate action regulation–the Clean Power Plan–which determined nuclear is not a good way to reduce carbon emissions. But in the weeks leading up to the COP, the White House held a special summit on nuclear power, announcing new research and development programs and putting out misleading information on the “opportunities” for nuclear under the Clean Power Plan. And on the opening day of the conference, President Obama held a press conference with software tycoon Bill Gates to promote investment and research in nuclear reactor designs as supposed climate solution. Then, on the second day, he announced that the US would not accept a treaty with legally binding emissions targets.

That is better than some had hoped, but falls far short of what is needed at this stage in the game: real commitments to preventing catastrophic climate change. Countries came to the COP proposing their own safely achievable targets for reducing emissions. Together, they add up to enough greenhouse gases to cause 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming (over 5 degrees F). The previously accepted standard of 2C is off the table, but even that level is now recognized by many as existentially inadequate: 1.5C is the limit if island nations are to survive. The level of sea level rise that would result from that level of warming would swallow whole nations like the Marshall Islands and much of French Polynesia.

Already devastated by nuclear weapons testing in the 20th century, the world’s nuclear and fossil fuel powers are again willing to sacrifice their very existence. This is one of countless examples climate justice: peoples that have played virtually no part in creating the climate crisis and have the least power to mitigate it–and who have suffered from colonialism and other injustices at the hands of countries that have promoted and profited from fossil fuel consumption–are the ones who face the greatest risks and have the most to lose from inaction.

Which also brings us back to the implications for nuclear power. Global warming exacerbates all of the problems with nuclear power:
– Warming water temperatures force reactors to shut down.
– Water consumption by reactors and pollution by radioactive waste will exacerbate drought and water scarcity, and put greater pressure fish and marine life.
– More forceful storms and climatic events make nuclear accidents more likely.
– Resource conflicts and social disruption will increase the risk of war and terrorism.

Nuclear is not a solution to global warming, but it is also completely incompatible with a warming planet. And if the climate treaty will not limit climate disruption enough to prevent whole nations from being ravaged, then the implications for nuclear safety are pretty dire, too.

We will be writing more about developments at COP 21 and the implications for nuclear power as the week goes on. I am not even sure what to say about what it all means at this point, nor what the climate treaty will mean for a sustainable energy future. But I can say it is more clear than ever that, if we are going to have a safe, sustainable, clean energy future–it is going to be because the people make it happen. It is clear that we are having an effect, or they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep our voices out.

Tim Judson

December 8, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/12/08/on-the-ground-at-cop-21/

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3 thoughts on “On the ground at COP 21: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly … so far

  1. iconickevin

    Nuclear in, anti-nuclear out. How long before John Key rejects NZ’s anti-nuclear stance as part of his job as Washington’s man in Wellington?
    Over my dead and irradiated body.


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