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Tripling Nuclear Energy Capacity: COP28 Declaration

The World Climate Action Summit at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai launched the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy. The target is to achieve global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the 1.5-degree goal set in the Paris Agreement. The declaration invites shareholders of international financial institutions to encourage the inclusion of nuclear energy in energy lending policies. The declaration was signed in Dubai on December 2, 2023, recognising the “key role of nuclear energy in keeping a 1.5-degree limit on temperature rise within rise” as stated by the US Department of Energy.

The declaration signatories will therefore invest in new technologies, commit to building new infrastructure, i.e., small and advanced reactors, and encourage institutions to lend power between endorsers to achieve the targets decided upon at the Summit. This includes international political cooperation amongst countries and also the economic collaboration with institutions such as the World Bank to include nuclear energy in lending policies.

Feasibility in achieving the net-zero target

The signatories to the declaration want to include the renewable energy pledge in the final UN decision and for the requirements to be globally applicable. This target is estimated to face hurdles, including the probability of achieving consensus among countries. For instance, while the US is a signatory, the representatives stated, “Nuclear energy is already the second-largest source of clean dispatchable baseload power, with benefits for energy security; financing and high-level political engagement would be needed to deliver on these ambitions”.

The net-zero target is linked with the call for “phasing down unabated coal power” and “ending the financing of new coal-fired power plants”. The requirements include doubling the global rate of energy efficiency by 2023. The challenge confronting countries is their ability to “phase out” the use of fossil fuels. While for more economically developed countries installing new reactors may be an easier feat, for lesser developed countries this would also be difficult. Tina Stege from Climate Envoy for the Marshall Islands stated, “It is only half the solution. The pledge can't greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production”.

Najib Ahmed, a consultant at Somalia’s Climate Ministry also stated, “The mismatch still exists between our potentially and our limitations to attract investment”. A Reuters report presented the fact that Africa has just received 2% of global investments in renewable energy over the last two decades. The targets to install new renewable energy infrastructure have been globally recognised for a number of years, yet targets for solar and wind energy, especially, have not been met owing to rising costs, labour constraints, and supply chain issues. These challenges can only be foreseeably overcome when governments and financial institutions increase investments and systematically address the rising costs in developing nations to attain 10,000 gigawatts of globally installed renewable energy by 2030.

National and International efforts

The signatories to the declaration made commitments including taking domestic actions to operate nuclear power plants responsibly, mobilise investments, invite shareholders, support the development of nuclear reactors, and promote resilient supply chains among others.

In efforts to meet the targets of the declaration, Colombia became one of the largest fossil fuel producers to join the group of climate-vulnerable island nations calling to end the development of planet-heating oil, coal, and gas. The US in addition pledged £3 billion to a green climate fund.

France has also expressed its commitment to the goal and aims to encourage OECD support measures for climate and financial risks and deter private financers. It also spearheaded the Nuclear Alliance initiative with other EU member states foreseeing green taxonomy for the EU. France is arguing for the inclusion of sustainable nuclear energy in national legislations as well.

Although nuclear energy was hailed as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, environmental groups have argued that nuclear energy raises concerns about safety and waste disposal. Countries including China and India, while supporting the initiative and project, have not signed the declaration.

The US climate envoy, John Kerry, has argued, “We are not making the argument to anybody that this is absolutely going to be a sweeping alternative to every other energy source; but we know because the science and the reality of facts and evidence tell us that you can’t get to net zero 2050 without some nuclear just as you can’t get there without some use of carbon capture, utilisation, and storage”.

Additionally, the signatories recognised the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in supporting the members in including nuclear power in their national sustainable energy planning. The Balkan Green Energy News reported that “The technology can help to decarbonize district heating, desalination, industry processes and hydrogen production”. Along with installing new infrastructural capacities, extending the lifetimes of existing nuclear power plants is also crucial to achieving the target.

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