Voices of Nuclear at the COP 27

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Published on 11/01/2023

The Voices attended the 27th Conference on Climate Change of the UNFCCC

After two weeks spent in Sharm El-Sheik, it is time for us to review the main elements of this COP and summarize the actions and feelings of our members on site. 

What was at stake for the COP 27? 

The conference took place at a critical time in the climate agenda. In 2021, the Glasgow conference, meant to finalize the application framework of the Paris agreement, failed to meet the promises made during the COP21. For instance, the long-expected requirement to “phase-out” coal as an energy source or the creation of an international compensation fund for the damages caused by climate catastrophes in developing countries, were not enshrined in the final agreement. Given the urgency of the situation and the imperatives expressed by the IPCC in its latest reports (Reaching a greenhouse gas emission peak by 2030, followed by a sharp decline to reach carbon neutrality in 2050), the expectations for the 2022 edition were high. 

The COP 27 was structured around four main themes: 

Climate change mitigation: Ensure that states respect their engagement to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement and keep the hope to stay well below the +2°C target by 2100. 

Adaptation: Faced with the unavoidable consequences of the climate crisis, namely flooding, forest fire, and intense heat waves, states have to find concrete solutions to increase their resilience and protect the populations. Serious progress in international cooperation was expected in this matter. 

Finance: Improve transparency in financial flows related to climate action and ensure better access of developing countries to international funding.  

Collaboration: Understand that decisions within the United Nations framework must be made through consensus and that is essential to facilitate exchanges and negotiations to come up with real impactful measures. This should include the active participation of communities that are most affected by the consequences of climate change. 

Negotiations seem to have been carried out in a particularly chaotic way. This was shown, for instance, by the intervention of an Argentinian representative, 5 days before the end of the conference, complaining they had received documents only 30 minutes before having to provide their remarks when simply accessing the meeting took 20 minutes. German foreign affairs minister Annalena Baerbock also expressed her frustration with large polluters and oil-producing countries in front of their reluctance to move forward on the issues of climate change mitigations and the phase-out of fossil fuels. 

The final result of the conference is ambivalent. The creation of a loss and damages fund for developing countries that are already impacted by the consequences of climate change, despite their small carbon footprint, is a major victory for climate justice. However, when it comes to energy, instead of demanding that fossil fuels be phased out, the final agreement only mentions a requirement to phase them down. Another important element of this agreement is a call for a transition towards low-carbon energies. If this term clearly includes nuclear power among the solutions for the energy transition, some have interpreted it as encompassing natural gas as well. 

Voices of Nuclear, an observing organization

This year, the Voices were granted the oberver status, allowing access to the main part of the conference, the “Blue Zone”. We received 2 accreditations for each week, thanks to which Marie-Jeanne Jouveau, Wojciech Zajączkowski (for the first week), Jean-Baptiste Raphanaud et Myrto Tripathi (for the second week) entered at the heart of the COP. The “Blue Zone” seems at first like a professional salon, where stalls are replaced by the “pavilions” of each participating country, UN agencies, and other international organizations (i.e. the IAEA or the ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce). But more than that, each delegation has access to bureaus, bilateral meeting areas, and conference rooms. The accreditation gives access to almost all of these areas. This is meant to foster the dialogue between diplomats and members of the civil society. Naturally, the reality is more complex. But on many occasions, our representatives had the opportunity to present their actions to certain delegations which – often – lead to constructive exchanges. From this perspective, though a lot still has to be improved, the format of the COPs remains irreplaceable. 

If the national delegations were, in general, difficult to access, our presence within the main zone enabled us to meet and exchange with political figures at the forefront of environmental negotiations. For instance, we attended a round table, in the French pavilion, in the presence of Agnès Pannier-Runacher, French minister of the energy transition. Afterward, during informal discussions in the conference’s corridors, we had the chance to present our recently published energy scenario, the TerraWater report (soon available in English) to both Mrs. Pannier-Runacher and Barbara Pompili, ex-minister of ecology. 

International encounters 

Eager to meet with the numerous international delegations on-site, we had the chance to encounter the representatives of various regions of the world. For instance, diplomats representing the Pacific islands shared with us their increasing anxiety related to the rising sea levels which threaten the very existence of their territory. We also had an interesting encounter with the Indian delegation during which we discussed the recent publication of our energy scenario. Since India is a country with high hydropower potential, our conclusions regarding the development of pumped-hydro storage as a way to mitigate solar and wind intermittency in France were particularly relevant to them. Also, with the collective Nuclear4Climate, we had a chance to exchange with Martin Kimani the Kenyan ambassador to the UN. 

From these interactions, we left with the feeling that the most interesting ideas came from African countries whose representatives are young, dynamic, and enthusiastic and propose truly relevant projects. A good example was the discussion we had with a volunteer from the organizing committee proudly speaking of the Egyptian nuclear programme. According to him, Egypt hopes to set the standard in terms of sustainable development and invites the rest of the world to follow the lead: “Go Nuclear !”

Cooperation with N4C coalition 

Throughout the conference, we were involved with the international collective of nuclear associations, created specifically for the COPs, Nuclear4Climate. Marie-Jeanne and Wojciech contributed to N4C’s actions by their presence on the stall during the first week and by taking part in the flashmob Fitness for climate.

Moreover, our members participated in several events organized by the N4C at the IAEA’s pavilion. Marie-Jeanne joined the round table on the role of NGOs in the promotion of nuclear, Wojciech took part in a discussion with the head of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossin, on the position of nuclear power in the energy transition and on the educational role the youth has to play on such topic. Finally, Myrto joined another round table where she discussed the role of female leaders in the nuclear sector.

 

Thus, we lead a large educational campaign raising awareness of what nuclear power actually is and its benefits. Besides, our mascot, Melty the polar bear, was met with a lot of enthusiasm by all the participants. He even attracted the attention of global media and got his picture published in the British newspaper The Guardian.

A flawed organization resulting in a more human COP

First observation, there was a clear lack of logistical planning. On top of the issues with the wifi and the weak 4G network on site, making online communication difficult, an agenda presenting the various events organized on the each pavilions everyday was clearly missing. This would have helped the participants to properly plan their day. As a result, many of these events remained empty, to the point that we found ourselves almost alone in the main zone of the conference on a morning in the middle of the week. 

Nevertheless, this lack of organization has some upsides. It greatly encourages informal conversations and fosters passionate discussions with panelists outside the main events. These impromptu meetings, which were excellent networking opportunities often leading to dense conversation, are an essential aspect of this type of conference. Unfortunately, this side of the COP is generally not properly shown in mainstream media.  

Overall observations

In substance, we noted a significant decrease of antinuclear actions. Apart from a stall (located right next to N4C) and a group of militants representing indigenous people, we didn’t see any opposition to nuclear energy. Yet, it remains difficult for those supporting nuclear power to advertise it. On China’s and South Korea’s stalls, for instance, nuclear power does not appear among their future solutions. On the other hand, hydrogen is present on the pavilion of each developed country, which always find new ways to integrate it into their communication and forecasts without proposing real, viable innovation. 

The notion of energy sobriety was almost inexistent. Besides one event, organized by the French Institute for Buildings Energy Performance (IFPEB), the question of reducing consumption levels was rarely tackled. If this is understandable for developing countries it should be an essential element for developed states. Similarly, we were disappointed to see that biomass is still only considered as a « reserve » and not as a driver of CO2 capture. Globally, negative emissions, either from land use or technology are largely ignored, except by African countries for which forests and wetlands management is a major issue for the following years. We want to underline an exhaustive presentation on this topic displayed on the stall of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The outcome of such an event is necessarily ambiguous. The COP is first and foremost the meeting of divergent interests agreeing to sit at a table and discuss the major peril of anthropic climate warming. But of course, it is too little, too late. What is most surprising is, that 30 years after the Earth Summit in Rio, no country considers it necessary to put forward obtained results. The COP is the kingdom of promises which, for most, won’t be kept.

The difficulty the UNFCC faces to provide a real diagnostic and propose an uplifting discourse to its participants is best exemplified by the tasteless slogan it chose: “Together for Implementation”. One would think that those who make the effort to come to the COP are not the ones who need convincing. 

Despite all these flaws, the COP shows the evolution of public and governmental opinions. The COP27 marks the return of nuclear power, cited among the low carbon energy in its final resolution. The Voices will keep acting to bring back nuclear power at the center of the debate to build a decarbonized energy mix providing reliable and stable energy accessible to all.

The COP also allows putting other issues of the French or European debate in the spotlight. It gives a voice to those who want the next 30 years to be about ensuring economic prosperity and decent living conditions for all rather than about degrowth.

No ideology, no climate catastrophe can stop this underlying movement, this aspiration of people for development. Here again, nuclear energy will have a central role in combining development and decarbonization.

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