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COP27: what it means for nuclear

The COP27 conference is into its second week and while most of the high-profile dignitaries have left, there is still plenty of negotiation and debate to go.

And, as representatives pour over the final text of what will become the final agreement for COP27 (also known as the ‘cover text’), we’ve pulled together three notable reasons why the conversations taking place at COP27 matter to the nuclear sector and why the nuclear sector should care about what’s happening in Sharm El-Sheikh.

If you need a quick refresher on the ins and outs of COP before diving into these points, check out our post from last week: COP27: What you need to know.

1. Phasing out coal and fossil fuels in the energy sector remains top of mind

The final agreement of the COP26 conference in Glasgow last year famously contained language that saw signatories commit to accelerate the “phasedown of unabated coal power”. This was significant, as countries around the world depend on coal power as a staple in their power grids. Eliminating these emissions would be a significant step forward in keeping our net zero by 2050 goals alive.

At COP27, emissions from the electricity sector continue to be a central focus for conference attendees. And it must be.

The International Energy Agency’s 2021 World Energy Outlook states that power generation from unabated coal must stop around the globe by the year 2040 in order to reach net zero by 2050. The political will expressed in the COP26 agreement is an important first step. But is remains just that: an expression of political will. The real progress will come from building new capacity with clean technologies around the world.

Nuclear power plays an integral role in supporting Ontario's electricity grid as one of the cleanest in North America.

The world needs to look no further than the province of Ontario for a model on how we can achieve this ever-important goal. Coal has been erased from Ontario’s electricity grid since 2014 thanks to the province’s nuclear sector.

In fact, the return to service of Units 1-4 at Bruce Power provided the province with 70% of the carbon-free, baseload energy that it needed to phaseout coal. Replacing coal with nuclear is a tried-and-true method to create greener grids and one that must serve as a model as countries around the world tackle the challenge of phasing out coal.

At the time of writing this post, COP27 is also poised to introduce a new challenge with several countries pushing for the final text of the COP27 agreement to expand the COP26 commitment to phasedown coal to include the phasedown of all fossil fuels. A challenge that would only increase the need for greater nuclear capacity around the world.

2. Energy security has become a significant challengenuclear can be a solution

The Russian war in Ukraine has added a new level of urgency to achieving ‘energy security’ for countries around the world. European countries have seen first-hand how important a reliable supply of energy is for their economies and the immense challenges that can come when that supply is interrupted. This has put a renewed emphasis on securing reliable, steady and clean sources of firm power (aka power that is intended to be available at all times).

As these challenges compound, nuclear will become an increasingly attractive solution. As the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) stated in release from the COP27 conference: “Many countries faced with sharply rising energy costs and heightened security of supply concerns are turning to nuclear power.”

This sentiment was backed up by action. At COP27, John Kerry, the United States Special Climate Envoy, announced that the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s interested in providing $3 billion in financial support for a nuclear plant in Romania. Kerry stated: “We have a viable alternative in nuclear… We don’t get to net zero by 2050 without nuclear power in the mix.”

Creating reliable, secure, clean and always-on power is a significant challenge on the road to net zeronuclear can, and will, be looked to as an integral part of the solution.

3. Inserting nuclear into the climate conversation

For far too long the nuclear sector has been left out of the climate conversation. As the title indicates, this is the 27th COP and it finally feels like momentum is shifting in favour of nuclear. COP27 will see the largest representation from the nuclear industry to date. It’s a manifestation of a sentiment shared across the nuclear sector: support for nuclear is support for the climate.

At this year’s conference the IAEA hosted a #Atoms4Climate pavilion, which offered up a programme to educate, inform and showcase how nuclear science and technology offer solutions for climate change mitigation, adaptation and monitoring. The pavilion offered a space for “government leaders, associations, civil society, academia, and medio to bring far-reaching debate and to amplify innovative ideas for nuclear science and technology solutions.”

It is important for nuclear to be present at this event. In many ways, COP27 will inform climate action for the year to come. If nuclear is missing from the conversation, progress on our goal of reaching net zero by 2050 will be limited at best.

It all comes down to a simple message that the nuclear sector knows quite well—and the world is beginning to wake up to: “Net Zero Needs Nuclear.”


Chad Richards is the Director of the Bruce Power Centre for New Nuclear and Net Zero Partnerships.


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