Nuclear on the agenda in UN climate change agreement

21 May 2009

The first drafts of texts that will be the basis of negotiations on a future United Nations (UN) climate change agreement have brought back the issue of nuclear energy into the discussions.
Government delegations are due to thrash out a new climate change deal to supercede the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which comes to an end in 2012, when they meet in Copenhagen in December. One key element for the new agreement will be the future of the Kyoto Mechanisms, know as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI), which both give emissions credits to projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The detailed rules of the Kyoto Protocol, agreed in Marrakesh in 2001, effectively stop any credits that are generated by CDM or JI projects involving nuclear facilities being counted by countries towards their greenhouse gas emissions limits, rendering any such credits worthless. This was seen as a political compromise, not ruling out nuclear projects outright, but effectively stopping any support for nuclear new build through the mechanisms.

The draft negotiating texts that have been released by the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this week give four options for the future of nuclear projects in the CDM and JI:

  1. Nuclear projects will be permanently banned from being eligible in the CDM and JI.
  2. Nuclear projects will be banned for the second commitment period, to start in 2013, with the duration still to be decided.
  3. Nuclear projects will be granted eligibility as CDM and JI projects for the second commitment period, but with no guarentee of future eligibility.
  4. Nuclear projects will be granted full eligibility as CDM and JI projects.

Along with nuclear projects, negotiators will be considering a range of modifications to the Kyoto Mechanisms, including the role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and forestry projects.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC said recently that the Kyoto Mechanisms would continue beyond 2012, but that it was clear that they all needed improvement to ensure that they indeed resulted in reduced emissions through the transfer of technology and resources, and did not just encourage "money and hot air pumping around."

Negotiators will have a first opportunity to consider the negotiating texts when they meet in in Bonn in June.