Nuclear Energy: An inevitable landmark climate deal at COP28

WORLD leaders will be gathering in the United Arab Emirates from Nov 30-Dec 12, 2023, on a common and urgent mission to curb climate change striving to prevent it from further escalating into a climate emergency.

Signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — an international environmental treaty addressing climate change —will convene to discuss the climate crisis on a global level. UN Climate Change Conference is the official name for climate Conferences of the Parties (COP).

In addition to decision makers including  world leaders and politicians; experts and other relevant groups are expected to share experience, insights, offer recommendations and action plans towards achieving the important objective to keep global warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — as per the Paris Agreement which was decided at COP21.

COP28, Dubai from Nov 30-Dec 12

The UAE has been endorsed/accorded the honour to host COP28 in 2023 in EXPO City, Dubai, from Nov 30-Dec 12, 2023.

Under the directive of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Court, had appointed Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, a member of the UAE Cabinet, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, as president-designate for the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) Shamma Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Razan Al Mubarak, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), will join Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber’s COP28 UAE team as the Youth Climate Champion and UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, respectively.

The UAE-Host of COP28: Walking the Talk

The hosting of COP28 by the UAE comes at a crucial moment when the nation was recently in November 2023 granted the operating licence for its fourth and final nuclear reactor at its Barakah Nuclear Power Plant from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). The licence, with a duration of 60 years, authorises Nawah to commission and operate the unit.

In February 2020, March 2021, and June 2022, FANR issued the operating licences for Unit 1, Unit 2, and Unit 3 respectively.

With the license for fourth plant granted, it marked a historic moment for the UAE, where it realised its vision that started 15 years ago in developing the-first-in-the-region peaceful nuclear energy programme. 

UAE’s Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and deputy chairman of the Board of Management of the FANR His Excellency Hamad Al Kaabi had announced that the UAE Nuclear Programme will play a key role in providing 25% of clean energy; hence, supporting the UAE government’s efforts to achieve its 2050 Net Zero Goals.

Thus, this testifies that the UAE as Host of COP28 is walking the talk on addressing climate change.

In recognition that a varied and large number of stakeholders are key in contributing to the success of COP28, in terms of planning, execution, implementation and financing of key action plans Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber has visited and conducted meetings and  discussions with world leaders, industry, financial institutions and others.

President COP28 called on key stakeholders to disrupt business as usual

Gulf Today had reported that UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber and COP28 President-Designate has called on governments, industry, and all stakeholders to “disrupt business as usual” and take decisive action to tackle the climate crisis it the world’s pursuit to achieve game-changing results.

Massive global investments to reduce emissions and boost resilience are required

Green Future had reported that  massive global investments to reduce emissions and boost resilience are required — and that  a  major shift is needed to harness public and, especially, private financing, with the urgency for both the public and private sectors to finance all components of the energy transition, including both the scaling of clean energy and the managed phaseout of fossil fuels on an accelerated time frame. Among key prescription for success included the use innovative financing instruments to scale up private investment in emerging and developing economies.

Trillions of dollars needed to meet climate target

Gulf Today underscored that President COP28 Dr Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Jaber had drawn attention to the urgent need to mobilise trillions, not billions, of dollars if the world is to reach our climate, biodiversity and SDG targets. 

Thus, in tandem with this Dr Sultan had made a visit to the UK to advance innovative climate finance to deliver climate action and a just energy transition and participated in high-level discussions on climate finance with US President Joe Biden and His Majesty King Charles III, alongside leading investors and philanthropists.

Addressing climate finance is a cornerstone of the COP28 Action Agenda

Khaleejtimes had reported that during a virtual meeting, attended by presidents of nine of the world’s biggest development banks including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) MD Kristalina Georgieva, President COP28 had called on multilateral development banks (MDBs) to show “more ambition” and work faster to address climate finance and development challenges.

Presidents of 9 of the world’s biggest development banks and the IMF MD Georgieva attends the virtual meeting

Role of nuclear power in climate change

Nuclear energy as part of an urgent and key solution to mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change has gained traction among world leaders. The following events is testimony of this development which is expected to culminate at COP28 with nuclear power inevitable role’s sealed and a Landmark Climate Deal announced.

* 78th Regular Session of the UNGA on Nov 8, 2023

Testimony of this include the IAEA’s DG His Excellency Rafael Grossi’s statement to the 78th Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Nov 8, 2023 highlighting that presently more than 400 nuclear power reactors operating in more than 30 countries supply over 10% of the world’s electricity, and more than a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. Without nuclear power, global CO2 emissions would be considerably higher.

As a case in point, the IAEA reports that nuclear power has avoided around 70 Gt CO2 in the last five decades, avoids more than 1 Gt CO2 every year in the current decade and is still globally the second source of low carbon power behind hydropower.

Additionally, more than 50 reactors are currently under construction and many countries already operating nuclear power programmes are extending them.

* COP27, Egypt in 2022

At COP27 in 2022 in Egypt, the IAEA’s ED Dr Fatih Birol had set the tone for the event by declaring at its outset: “Nuclear power is making comeback — and in a strong fashion.”  

Dr Birol dovetailed that nuclear power capacity needs to double by 2050 if net zero goals are to be achieved and he highlighted that to live up to its potential, the nuclear industry must do better to deliver its projects on time and on budget.

* WNA’s World Nuclear Symposium 23, London in September 2023

During the World Nuclear Symposium 23 organised by the World Nuclear Association (WNA) in London in September 2023, Net Zero Nuclear  initiative was launched by the WNA and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp (ENEC) with the support of the Atoms4NetZero, an initiative of the IAEA, ahead of COP28 in Dubai.

The World Nuclear News (WNN) had reported that recent data modelling has shown that global nuclear capacity should at least triple by 2050 to achieve climate targets whilst still ensuring energy security and thus it is within this context that Net Zero Nuclear called for an unprecedented collaboration between key stakeholders including government, industry leaders and civil society to achieve this urgent need.

* International Climate Change Conference, Vienna, Austria in October 2023

And a year later in October 2023, during the IAEA’s 2nd International Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power Conference in Vienna, Dr Birol had outlined three crucial things that need to be done for nuclear energy to contribute to net zero goals:   Continue the construction of large nuclear power plants, life extension of the existing nuclear power plants as this is a very cheap source of energy, and to support and invest in innovation including SMRs technologies.

COP28 and the Role of Nuclear Power

Recognising the critical role of nuclear power in achieving net zero goals, a number of meetings and events have been organised at COP28 to provide strategic platforms for discussions and decisions on this key and urgent matter.

Ministerial event at COP28 to announce the IAEA Statement on Nuclear Power

The COP28 Presidency and the IAEA will co-host this ministerial event at COP28 to announce the IAEA Statement on Nuclear Power, which reflects nuclear critical role in the net zero transition and is supported by over 50 nuclear operating and newcomer countries, and discuss the ways forward in paving the way to count with nuclear in the pathway to net zero.

Net zero nuclear to reiterate call for tripling installed nuclear capacity by 2050

The initiative launched at World Nuclear Symposium 23 jointly by WNA and ENEC will reiterate its call for greater cooperation from all stakeholders to triple nuclear installed capacity by 2030

Pledge to push to triple amount of installed nuclear capacity and call on World Bank and other financial institutions to include nuclear in their lending policies

Bloomberg had reported on Nov 15, 2023, that the US will lead a push at the COP28 Summit to triple the amount of installed nuclear capacity globally by 2050, making a major turnaround for the controversial technology at the climate negotiations. The declaration will call on the World Bank and other international financial institutions to include nuclear in their lending policies according to a document seen by Bloomberg News. The US will likely be joined by the UK, France, Sweden, Finland and South Korea in the pledge to be signed on Dec 1, 2023, in Dubai according to people familiar with the matter.

Proposed launch of an IBNI

Recognising the present inadequate funds available to fund nuclear power and other related infrastructures, an international steering group had  reviewed present status and will be launching a new International Bank for Nuclear Infrastructure (IBNI) to offer the much needed additional funds to support nuclear power aimed at contributing to achieving net zero goals.

Stakeholders call to multilateral and international banks to consider including nuclear in their financing policies

A number of stakeholders including President COP28 had COP28 urged multilateral development banks (MDBs) and the IMF to accelerate climate finance.

Stakeholders are calling for MDBs to include nuclear as part of portfolio in ESG financing to support climate financing.

My appeal to the Mulitlateral Development Banks

As world leaders gather in unison to call for the MDBs to include nuclear in their financing portfolio under ESG, I would like to appeal to the MDBs to please consider including nuclear not only as key imperative of ESG but also to take into consideration the strategic and significant contribution of nuclear for development in particular for developing countries.

Arising from his concern about the escalating nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union or “Atoms for War” US President Dwight Eisenhower, had delivered his Atoms for Peace Speech at the UNGA on Dec 8, 1953, which had set the direction to shift nuclear application for peaceful uses through cooperation and sharing of information and knowledge.

This speech had inspired the creation of the IAEA, in 1957 to promote the application of nuclear science and technology “for the benefit of all mankind”.

Sheriffah (right) meets Amano in Vienna – pic source: Sheriffah Noor

During His Excellency Yukiya Amano, the former IAEA DG visit to Malaysia in 2015, in his speech at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC), Amano had dovetailed that “Our mandate has been summarised as ‘Atoms for Peace’, which was the title of a famous speech by President Eisenhower in 1953 in which he proposed the creation of the IAEA,” he added. “I believe we could now expand that to ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’.” 

This is timely as countries receiving support from the IAEA and other countries in nuclear applications and nuclear energy have experienced and witnessed significant development in their countries. An exemplary example is South Korea.

It is a historic milestone for Malaysia and the world that the famous slogan “Atoms for Peace” by Eisenhower was expanded to “ Atoms for Peace and development” by Amano during his visit here. He has thus underlined the IAEA’s role in global development by changing the Agency’s official motto into “Atoms for Peace and Development.”

Additionally, the IAEA helps countries to achieve the SDGs in energy, food and agriculture, industry, water management and health.

Thus it is within this context that I would like to appeal to the MDBs to please consider including nuclear into the MDBs financing portfolio not only for ESG objectives but also equally important to support the development as well as SDGs of countries as espoused by former IAEA DG that nuclear is not only for peace but also for development.

Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid Datuk Syed Ahmad Idid
Innovation and Nuclear Advocate
Alumna, Imperial College, University of London, UK