COP 21 and the Climate-Nuclear Nexus

PNND members from around the world are in Paris for the World Climate Conference (COP 21). Nuclear weapons and climate change pose the two most prominent threats to the survival of humanity and the global eco-system.

Nuclear disarmament could help finance renewables and build cooperation required to protect the planet.

On December 2, as world leaders gather in Paris for the Climate Conference, the New York Times featured a front page story – The Marshall islands are disappearing, which chronicled the impact climate change is already having on low-lying islands which are being washed over by rising seas and could disappear completely within the decade.

Tony de Brum, Marshall islands Foreign Minister and a PNND Council Member, after receiving the Right Livelihood Award ('Alternative Nobel Peace Prize').

At the same time, Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands and a Council member of PNND, was meeting with President Obama in Paris (see Obama Says He’s an ‘Island Boy’ in Climate Meeting With Small Island Leaders), just after Mr de Brum received the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (‘Alternative Nobel Peace Prize’) in the Swedish Parliament for his leadership to combat climate change and abolish nuclear weapons.

For Tony de Brum, nuclear weapons and climate change are linked in a climate-nuclear nexus.

Both pose existential threats to humanity and the environment. Both cause damage to future generations from irresponsible actions today. Both threats come primarily from actions from rich developed countries, but have a greater impact on developing countries. Both are already forcing people from their homes – in the Marshall Islands whole islands are now uninhabitable for thousands of years due to nuclear tests in the 1950s-1960s and other islands are having to be evacuated due to monthly tides washing over their islands from climate change.

But most importantly, both can be solved if the world focuses on cooperation rather than conflict. If nuclear armed States stopped maintaining and modernizing their nuclear weapons, and agreed to disarm under international agreement, it would liberate billions of dollars that could be invested in renewable energies and other climate protection measures.

Due to Climate Change, high tides now often wash over islands in the Republic of the Marshall islands.

This is the main aim of the SANE (Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure) Act submitted to the US Congress by PNND Co-President Senator Ed Markey, and co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders and Al Franken.

Nuclear disarmament would also require cooperation between the major powers that would assist the global cooperation required to combat climate change. One example of this already in operation is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), the international organization established to verify and implement the global ban on nuclear tests. The CTBTO has a global monitoring network of seismic, radionuclide, hydro-acoustic and noble gas monitoring stations that can now also monitor earthquakes, tsunamis (tidal waves), and nuclear accidents anywhere in the world. Within minutes of an earthquake, the CTBTO can announce whether and how a tsunami could hit coastal areas. It was the CTBTO that monitored the radiation fallout patterns of the Fukushima disaster.

In addition, nuclear disarmament would remove a major impediment to international cooperation – the tensions between nuclear-armed States from their nuclear threat postures.

For these reasons, nuclear disarmament should be advanced at COP 21 as a process that could support climate protection.

This is a point made by Saber Chowdhury, President of the Inter Parliamentary Union (and also a Co-President of PNND) who will be co-hosting (with the Presidents of the French Senate and French National Assembly) a two-day Parliamentary meeting on the occasion of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, attended by over 250 parliamentarians from 85 parliaments.

Ban Ki-moon and Arnold Schwarzenegger, guest speakers at the IPU parliamentary meeting on the occasion of the Paris Climate Conference

Saber Chowdhury, a parliamentarian from Bangladesh which is also being severely impacted by climate change, has highlighted the fact that a portion of the $100 billion spent annually on nuclear weapons could provide a significant boost to renewable energies and climate protection. See, for example the resolution on this which he drafted for the Bangladesh parliament. The two guest speakers for the IPU parliamentary event Ban Ki-moon and Arnold Schwarzenegger, have also made links between nuclear abolition and climate change.

Although we must address global warming —its most dangerous consequences come decades down the road.* The most dangerous consequences of nuclear weapons, however, are here and now.  They are of this hour and time.  A nuclear disaster will not hit at the speed of a glacier melting.  It will hit with a blast.  It will not hit with the speed of the atmosphere warming but of a city burning. Clearly, the attention focused on nuclear weapons should be as prominent as that of global climate change.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Actor, Governor of California, 2003-2011. Guest speaker at the IPU parliamentary meeting on the occasion of the 2015 UN Climate Change conference in Paris.
Quote from his speech to the Hoover Institution, Oct. 24, 2007.
* Note: The decades down the road mentioned in 2007 is fast approaching, and possibly already here.

The Climate-Nuclear Nexus, a report released by the World Future Council in Geneva on November 27, highlights these points, but also makes connections to nuclear energy. The report argues that:

  • Nuclear energy creates similar catastrophic and trans-generational risks to human health and the environment;
  • Nuclear energy also creates risks of nuclear weapons proliferation;
  • Nuclear energy is not required – nor capable of solving the climate crisis.

The World Future Council highlights the third point - that nuclear energy is not required nor capable of resolving the climate crisis – as very important for COP 21. The nuclear energy lobby has been promoting nuclear energy as vital to drastically reducing carbon emissions. See The New Atomic Age We Need, New York Times, 28 November 2015.

World Future Council publication - Are you In? 100% Renewables, Zero Poverty

The International Renewable Energy Agency, on the other hand, argues in a new report Rethinking Energy: Renewable Energy and Climate Change, that renewable energy sources would be able to replace fossil fuels and provide additional energy to meet development needs if there was sufficient political will, policy shifts and investment in renewable energy.  

The World Future Council – which is actively lobbying at COP 21 – has also produced a report 100% renewable energy, zero poverty, are you in? which highlights how renewable energy sources can not only replace fossil fuels, but also that they are the best suited to get energy to the poor, many who currently have no access to energy. Renewables can also improve health by reducing pollution, improve education, create jobs and kick-start industries in minor economies.

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