What does success at COP26 look like for nuclear?

With COP26 underway, the excitement and energy are tangible as people from around the world convene in Glasgow to participate in a multitude of activities over the next two weeks. (My colleague Chad Richards covered what you can expect at COP26 in his blog last week.)

(Credit: ukcop26.org)

But more importantly, the conference provides an opportunity and a platform for countries that have signed up for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss their climate action plans, share best practices, and form new agreements to move forward together on a path towards net zero.


Despite mixed signals from COP organizers on nuclear (which I covered in a previous article), the industry has a real opportunity to change the channel and show the world the amazing potential that nuclear technologies have and the crucial role it will play in decarbonizing the global economy.


But changing the channel will not happen on its own, nor will it happen overnight.


I’ve come to realize that even though it is so obvious to some that there is simply no net-zero future without nuclear, there are those who prefer to exclude nuclear as a viable solution.

And when nuclear is excluded from the conversation by leaders, decisionmakers and organizers—it is a setback for climate change, not just for nuclear.

The change needed will be challenging, but I am optimistic that we can get there. To get us moving in the right direction, we’ll need new thought leaders, a coordination of communication efforts, careful and thoughtfully crafted messages and continuously working towards building trust and social license.


I see this challenge as an opportunity where we can do better as individuals and as an industry. Here’s what I think success at COP26 looks like and what I think we can do to achieve even bigger wins in the future.


What success could look like for nuclear

This isn’t an all or none exhaustive checklist, but here’s what success at COP26 could look like:

  • Delegates from countries that have historically strong nuclear programs like Canada, US, UK, France, and China (to name a few) discuss their climate action plans and share why they have decided to invest in nuclear as a means to achieve their climate objectives.

  • Delegates from countries with new nuclear programs like Argentina, UAE, India and Slovakia (to name a few) share why they’ve decided to build nuclear reactors for the first time and what that decision has meant for their nation’s energy supply, economic growth and climate goals.

  • Post communications from COP and media explicitly recognize nuclear as one of the viable solutions being used to achieve climate objectives.

As the nuclear industry continues making strides by promoting awareness, the result of these efforts could mean even bigger wins for nuclear at future conferences. Bigger wins for nuclear could include:

  • Approval for nuclear applications to participate in the Green Zone at the next COP

  • Firm financial commitments from banks and investment communities to increase funding for nuclear projects as part of their ESG investing strategies;

  • New plans, agreements and MOUs from countries that want to leverage nuclear energy as part of their climate action plans also known as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The conference started this week, so we'll see what kind of success the nuclear industry finds at COP26. Regardless, there is still much that the industry and nuclear supporters can do to ensure success at future conferences.


What the industry can do

Strategic communications: We need to rethink the way our industry communicates to the public. A piecemeal approach and the individual efforts of organizations will struggle to reach critical mass. The industry needs a strategic approach where they come together to launch an effective campaign that effectively promotes the benefits of nuclear.


Building trust and social license: Because the nuclear industry tends to be quite insular with its communications, it is not surprising that those outside of the industry don’t know us and in some cases, don’t trust us. One way we can change this and build trust is through increasing diversity within our industry. By replacing old messengers with new ones that represent the values and a true cross-section of the people we are trying to convince, we can reach a broader audience with a message that truly resonates.

Click to read: The world’s first (but hopefully not last) nuclear influencer

Engage with young people now: It is clear that today’s decisions continue to be influenced by yesterday’s thinking. Many industries and organizations (not just nuclear) continue to be led by old-school beliefs that are perpetuated and institutionalized.


We need a paradigm shift—we need young people to join the discussion with new values, perspectives, and to challenge the status quo. This next generation of passionate individuals are the key to reshaping this industry, so we need to engage with them and invest in them today.


What nuclear supporters can do

Communicate with impact: When the decision was made to exclude nuclear from the Green Zone at COP26, it sparked online discontent and backlash from the industry and supporters. We all have a voice that we can use to influence change, we should focus our efforts in communicating in a way that has more impact. Instead of taking to social media to blow off steam, our efforts would be more effective if we spoke up at public forms, wrote emails to policymakers or organizers, voicing concerns constructively when a decision like this occurs.


Put your money where your mouth is: When it comes to the growing enthusiasm for investing in clean energy, nuclear is not an ESG priority for asset managers. But, with the advent of advanced nuclear technologies like SMRs and increased marketing of large scale nuclear's contributions to a net-zero economy, the industry has a chance to re-invent itself with new branding and a new image, while becoming a significant investment class.


Not to mention the fact that uranium bull markets appear to be starting up again, indicating that now might be the right time to invest in nuclear. So tell your portfolio manager or investment advisor that you want to start investing in nuclear. This is an important movement that needs to begin as soon as possible.

Support nuclear advocacy groups: You may not be able to hop on a plane and attend these international climate conferences, but you can rest assured that non-profit groups like Generation Atomic or North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) will be there advocating for the industry. You can support these groups by promoting their content with shares, likes, or retweets. And of course, by going to their website and donating to their cause.


We need to get this right

Recently Patricia Espinosa (Executive Secretary, UN Climate Change) said it best, stating that COP26 would have successful outcomes as long as “no voice or solution was left behind.”


Climate change has the entire world rallying and mobilizing together, looking for solutions that will save our planet. This includes nuclear, whether it is welcomed by all or not.

The nuclear industry has an opportunity to re-write its narrative and change the course of history by showing the world that when the planet was in climate crisis, nuclear stepped up to the challenge.

This means we need to show up, even when we’re not invited. Because now is our moment.

Susie Ho is the Senior Advisor at the Bruce Power Centre for Next Generation Nuclear.