Kyoto: where do nukes stand?

30 August 2001

Delegates from 178 countries have reached an agreement over the 1997 Kyoto protocol after four days of tense negotiations in Bonn. Even without the support of the USA, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, it is now likely that Kyoto will come into force next year.

From before it started, the Bonn Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change looked doomed to fail. Japan – whose cooperation was essential for success – was wavering as a result of the US position. But, faced with a united and hard-bargaining European Union, the country was not able to extract the concessions the nuclear industry was hoping for.

Japanese industry and officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry have sharply criticised the country’s eleventh-hour agreement to disqualify nuclear from the CDM. The Japanese delegation in Bonn agreed to the compromise in exchange for the use of carbon sinks to meet the bulk of its required reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

Under the Bonn agreement, nuclear energy projects will not be included in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI). The CDM allows industrialised countries to claim “carbon credits” for low emission projects in developing countries. Similarly, the JI mechanism covers green investments in transition economies. Japan, Canada and Russia were the main supporters of including nuclear power in these mechanisms.

There is still a possibility that nuclear may get back into the global accord, whereby non-developed countries could build reactors on their own territories and receive carbon credits. No agreement on this issue was reached in Bonn, leaving the decision for the next meeting, to be held in Marrakesh.

Foratom were quick to criticise the “discrimination” against nuclear. Dr Wolf-J Schmidt Küster said that Foratom are “astonished that Europe – which will rely heavily on nuclear electricity for compliance with the Kyoto protocol – is trying to prevent other nations from using this important mitigation technology.” Although countries cannot claim carbon credits by exporting nuclear technology, they can use domestic nuclear energy to cut their own carbon dioxide emissions. The same state of affairs had been reached at the previous meeting held in La Hague last November, but the talks broke down when EU Green ministers refused to compromise on the use of carbon sinks. Under the Bonn compromise, credits are given for changing the way existing forests are managed, so that they absorb extra carbon. Newly planted forests can also gain credits under the CDM.

Despite the failure for nuclear to qualify for carbon credits, the pressure for industrialised nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions is still good news for the industry. But here, also, another unfavourable compromise was reached. Cuts in greenhouse gases by 37 of the world’s most developed countries will now only amount to 1.8% until 2010, down from the original Kyoto target of 5.2%.

Nevertheless, if this is enforced – and increased later on – the developed world may soon find these targets very difficult to achieve without nuclear power.



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