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Fukushima and the climate

The first round of UN climate talks is taking place in Bangkok this week. You might not have noticed, as there are so many other things on the news agenda they have not been featuring prominently. More than 1,500 experts are trying to hammer out more partial agreements to pave the way for the big conference in Durban at the end of the year.
Unsurprisingly, the ongoing Fukushima reactor catastrophe has thrown its shadow over the UN talks. The question is: what do the events in Japan mean for the climate negotiations? There are many who see nuclear energy as acceptable as a “last resort” or “bridge technology” to reduce emissions and put the brakes on climate change. Some of them are now changing their minds, with a further nuclear disaster right around the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl showing the risks.
But there are also plenty of viable proposals around for renewable energies.At the EJC conference I attended in Budapest I talked to Stephan Singer, Global Energy Director of WWF International. Even before Japan, he told me, WWF is convinced that Europe can cover its energy needs 100% using renewable energy. He also stressed the duty of wealthy industrialised countries to help the developing world to do the same.
I also talked to Artur Runge-Metzger in Budapest, from the EU’s climate policy directorate, as you might have read here on the blog. He was explaining the EU’s “roadmap” to a low-carbon economy by 2050. He is now amongst the negotiators in Bangkok and has indicated the developments in Japan will probably lead to a re-working of the document this autumn. He and WWF’s Stephan Singer said it was quite possible that some previously pro-nuclear countries might change their minds.
The question then is what do they replace it with? If it\’s coal, for instance, emissions will rise again.

Date

April 5, 2011 | 10:55 am

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Chernobyl , Fukushima and “climate-friendly” energy

It’s hard to concentrate on other things with a potentially major nuclear catastrophe on the horizon in Japan. I interviewed the head of a Greenpeace team of experts who were in Chernobyl looking into the lasting after-effects of the disaster 25 years ago when the news started to come in from Japan. She described the looks on people’s faces as they heard it and says their expressions told her “we know what that area of Japan will look like in 25 years time.” Deformed children, contaminated foodstuffs…
You would think this latest disaster would really put governments off nuclear power, which of course the pro-atomic lobby has been selling as “climate-friendly”. Germany’s current government had upturned the previous government’s momentous decision to phase out nuclear power and extended the life of a lot of old reactors. Now Chancellor Merkel has had to partially abandon her policy, declaring a three-month moratorium on the extension… Sounds complicated? (More background on the dw website)There’s a huge debate going on here on whether Germany should go it alone on abandoning nuclear. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Professor Carlos Duarte, a leading scientist involved in he EU\’s “Arctic Tipping Points” programme. (Listen to the story on how the Arctic is setting off alarm bells for the global climate on Living Planet.) When it comes to halting climate change, he told me the time for governments to wait and see who will make the first move is over, somebody needs to go ahead unilaterally and take the first steps. I\’d say the same applies to nuclear power. I wonder how some of the key figures who shifted from an anti- to a pro-nuclear stance because of the urgency of climate change are feeling now?
I hope this latest catastrophe will push support for renewables. But of course there is the danger that countries opting out of nuclear will burn more fossil fuels. We seem to be caught in a very vicious circle…

Date

March 18, 2011 | 11:41 am

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Nuclear catastrophe and the climate

I have been following with increasing concern the developments in Japan. In between trying to keep up with what’s happening and interviewing experts, I went to the studio to record a story planned earlier for this week’s Living Planet programme on how the Arctic can be seen as an early warning system for the global climate. Clearly, the risk of a huge radiation disaster is overshadowing everything else at the moment – including a worrying press release I received from the Alfred Wegener Institute for polar and marine research about a huge ozone hole over the Arctic.
I find myself wondering what effect events in Japan will have on the ever-pressing need to reduce emissions to try to slow down climate change. The engineeer working with me in the studio on the Arctic piece surprised me by saying “the disaster in Japan should make sure there is more attention put on these climate stories”. I had been thinking to myself it would probably distract attention from the climate debate, although it could have one positive side-effect if it means more resources going into safe alternative sources of energy. Maybe I have been getting caught up too much in technical details. For the young man in the studio, climate change and a nuclear disaster have one thing in common: they pose a threat to the future of the planet. Good food for thought. Thanks PK4 this pm.

Date

March 15, 2011 | 4:52 pm

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