Introducing nuclear technologies in areas such as crop breeding, soils and ground water management and flue gas filtering could be central in mitigating phenomena caused by climate change. Ahead of global climate negotiations, to be held in Copenhagen in December, a roundtable on climate change received the first comprehensive presentation of the Agency’s work to help Member States reduce, mitigate and adapt to climate change and its impact on the world population.
Promoted by “Friends of Nuclear”, composed of a consortium of IAEA Member States meeting during the Agency’s annual General Conference, during the roundtable, IAEA scientists also showcased nuclear research to extend scientific understanding of climate change phenomena and to inform policy and decision-making. “Strategies to reduce vulnerability and bolster a nation’s capacity to adapt to climate change-induced effects are urgently needed in developing countries”, said Andy Garner, Programme Coordinator at the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.
Climate change is disrupting seasonal weather and rain patterns, accelerating glacial ice loss, exacerbating storm frequency and ferocity, contributing to longer droughts and flooding disasters, degrading soil fertility, and speeding the migration of pest insects, invasive plant species and infectious animal diseases. Through nuclear applications, temperature and drought-resistant crops strains can be introduced, fresh water reserves located and mapped, water pollution tracking and soil conservation tools developed. In addition, nuclear applications are powerful tools in understanding the drivers of climate change.
The Agency is engaged in developing the analysis necessary to formulate “an effective response to mitigate or adapt to climate change by using nuclear reconstruction of past climate events to estimate the effect of future developments,” said Maria Betti, Director of the IAEA’s Marine Environment Laboratory in Monaco. She explained that research and analysis methodologies to map ocean temperatures and acidification, as well as shifting ocean currents enable Member States to produce models to test and develop appropriate responses. Increasing ocean temperatures and acidification are growing threats for marine biodiversity and sustainability, as well as potent influences on weather and storm patterns. As the world’s nuclear body, the IAEA’s work on climate change naturally includes a major energy component.
“If you are serious about climate change, you cannot ignore nuclear energy”, stated Holger Rogner, Head of the IAEA’s Planning and Economic Studies, who leads the IAEA’s effort to offer objective, expert energy and economic planning advice. Since 1997, this group has been supporting delegations negotiating international climate treaties. In addition, the IAEA provides over 100 Member States long-term, integrated energy planning analysis that takes into account each nation’s environmental, social and economic circumstances, termed CLEW, or Climate Land-Use Energy Water, studies.
“Climate change is now a major issue with ramifications for all of the major global, social and economic challenges the international community is now confronting,” said Rogner. To support human development, broader energy access is essential. But with the world population projected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030, causing a 50 per cent increase in the global demand for food and energy, and a 30 per cent increase in the demand for safe drinking water, proportional increases in greenhouse gase emissions are likely, worsening the impact of climate change. To the IAEA and ‘Friends of Nuclear’, nuclear energy is the only available power generation option that can deliver large-scale, baseline energy, while emitting over the lifecycle of a power plant the lowest GHG concentrations of any of the available alternatives. “Nuclear energy is an important option in the current climate change context,” said Marc-Gerard Albert, Nuclear Counsellor at the French Permanent Mission to the IAEA, and Roundtable Chair.
“Nuclear can help decarbonise energy production”, said Janice Dunn Lee, Deputy Director General of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), which publishes the World Energy Outlook. The NEA is promoting programs to speed the introduction of innovative reactor designs that can meet the accelerating energy demand, and offer greater operational safety, efficiency, and proliferation-resistance while reducing waste.
The Roundtable on the “IAEA and Climate Change” was hosted and chaired delegation of France, co-sponsored by Canada, China, France, India, Japan and the United States. The same Member States that compose ‘Friends of Nuclear” are the main players in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15), scheduled to re-launch discussions on the curbing of carbon emissions, considered the main culprit of climate change.