Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2016
By Kelly Lundeen
Both pro- and anti-nuclear energy champions cheered the Paris Climate Agreement and the role of nuclear energy as a solid start to slowing irreversible climate change on an international level. The commitment by 195 countries to work toward limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with hopes to cap it at 1.5 degrees, was more ambitious than expected in an agreement reached by countries sponsored by Chevron and friends, as well as those hoping to keep their heads above water, like the Marshall Islands. If nations have negotiated their voluntary pledges in good faith, worldwide carbon emissions will be reduced dramatically over the next 15 years, but there was no stance taken on nuclear power. The agreement remains voluntary, unenforceable, and there are no penalties for noncompliance. It is potentially less binding than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The peak of enthusiasm for the accord reached at its December adoption has since waned. As we approach the signing ceremony on International Mother Earth Day, only one country has approved its ratification. In the United States, the Supreme Court has granted a stay to prevent implementation of a portion of the US contribution to the agreement—the Clean Power Plan, which only accounts for about one third of the carbon emissions reductions promised in the US pledge. Republican presidential candidates have sworn to pull out of the Paris Agreement completely.
Nuclear power in the Paris Agreement
While only pro-nuclear “environmentalists” were allowed to speak and set up official exhibit booths at the Climate Change conference, nuclear power opponents were left in the Paris streets. Not so in the agreement itself. Nuclear is not required or favored in the deal. The word “nuclear” did not even appear in the document, and only became part of three of the 195 countries’ pledges: the United States, India and China. Therefore the absence of either an endorsement or a rejection of nuclear in the agreement is what both sides are hailing as a victory.
Individual countries’ plans for carbon emissions reductions did not specify how much nuclear power would be incorporated. What is clear in the United States is that, while current nuclear generation was not promoted under the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s 2016 budget included a $900 million gift to the nuclear industry—guaranteeing its continually subsidized existence.
The outcome of the Paris Agreement remains to be seen, due to its voluntary nature and the fact that details will be decided in future meetings. Those details may include incentives for implementing certain technologies, including nuclear. The only enforcement of individual nations’ pledges depends on public shame; the best tool we have is to keep up the pressure for a livable world without fossil fuels or nukes!
—United Nations, Dec. 14, 2015; GreenWorld Dec. 8 & 15, 2015, White House, Nov. 6, 2015