climateWe’ve recently been discussing the issue of nuclear energy on Debating Europe - including a lively disagreement over renewable technologies and whether or not they’re ready to pick up the slack. We’ve also been looking at suggestions sent in by readers Peter Schellink and Cassandra about whether we need a “paradigm shift” away from a focus on growth and towards a focus on “wellness” and “quality of life”.

The issue of climate change, however, is something we haven’t really addressed yet. It’s been touched upon in both debates – especially in the debate around nuclear (where we looked at whether a move away from nuclear could lead to an increase in the use of coal and a subsequent rise in CO2 emissions). We contacted Erik Solheim, Norway’s environment minister, and asked him about climate change and the nuclear debate.

Firstly, is he optimistic about the prospects for the upcoming UN climate change conference in Durban?

I think politicians have to be open and straight-talking on these matters. The number one problem when it comes to climate change negotiations is the Republican party of the United States of America. As long as the US, due to the efforts of the Republicans, are not able to come up with a considerate approach to climate change then there are limits to what the rest can do.

What can we do in the meantime? Building, stone by stone. We will not have the big-bang approach that people talked about before Copenhagen, but Cancun was a huge success as I see it, and we should build on this at Durban. What we can add now is the prolongation of the Kyoto protocol. And we should make sure that everything agreed is centered around the issue of preserving rainforests. We also have to make sure these fine words are implemented in real life, not just in speeches.

What about nuclear energy and how it fits into this debate? We had a comment made by Max from Germany arguing that other countries should follow his country’s lead in abandoning nuclear power. In light of safety concerns following the Fukushima disaster, is this a positive step? Or is it going to lead to a heavier reliance on coal and other polluting technologies?

I believe that the decision made by chancellor Merkel is extremely helpful – for the reason that discontinuing nuclear power will most certainly force Germany and German industry into developing new technologies on fuel, energy efficiency, wind, biomass, etc., and since Germany is the most important industrial nation in Europe, it will have an enormous influence on the rest. It’s a very brave and positive decision, but that is not to say that everyone should do the same. Countries are in different situations and, as you say, not all of them may be in a position to abandon nuclear in the short-term.

What do YOU think? Are the Republican Party in the US the single biggest obstacle to reaching a global agreement on climate change? Or are developing countries like India and China (now the single biggest emitter of CO2 in the world) part of the problem? Will abandoning nuclear energy help spur development of renewables? Or will it lead to a greater reliance on coal and natural gas? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to experts and policy-makers for their reactions.

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17 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Willy De Backer

    It is too easy to find a scapegoat and blame US Republicans for the lack of strong climate policies in the US and as a result for the slow diplomatic process at UN level. Let’s not forget that it was under President Clinton that the US Congress started to oppose the Kyoto deal which Vice-President Al Gore had negotiated.
    There are in reality multiple culprits for the climate impasse: the short-term interest thinking of the emerging economies (hiding behind the wrong moral concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities”; the obstruction lobbying by some big oil and energy companies which will lose out from the transition to a low-carbon economy; the UN’s technocratic approach to this climate issue; the lack of real global governance are all key elements in this slow progress.
    But most important is our own self-denial: all of us (political and business leaders as well as citizens/consumers) are unwilling to face up to the fact that we have been living above our means and that we will have to rethink and re-engineer our whole way of life. Are we willing to radically change our lifestyle, our cultural values, our institutions, our politics, our economy? Is this not too much to ask?

  2. Karl-Friedrich Lenz

    The solution to the American politics problem needs to make sure that fossil fuel interests support any necessary changes. They have a lot of influence, since they contribute a lot of money.

    The way to do that is to take the model of OPEC and take it a couple of steps further. Set a fixed number of CO2 the world can emit for the next year. Then set maximum production numbers for oil, coal and gas derived from that number. Let the market figure out who gets to burn how much of each.

    This would of course lead to rising prices, something the fossil fuel companies won’t oppose, since it raises their profits. It also makes sure that they can stay longer in business, since the resources will be depleted slower. And it is in no way dependent on understanding global warming. The same system can be easily explained with the need to preserve precious fossil fuel for future generations.

  3. Mike Mangan

    As a Republican voter, I urge my Republican congressman to defund any and all “climate change” activities the federal government is currently engaged in. I especially mean the corrupt WWF subsidiary known as the IPCC. All subsidies for bogus “renewable” energy sources should be eliminated immediately, as well.
    Just once, I’d like to see the Europeans lead on an issue. Let’s see them don the hair shirt and strangle their economies for a generation so we can lower the earth’s temperature by .001°C. As for America, we’re broke and we have no more time for these childish environmental fantasies.

    • Giovanni Macchia

      Dear Mr. Mangan, the evidence of the climate change and of its human nature is based on science, not on other issues. I have all the respect for all the US people and nation but, please, do not confuse science with fantasy. The scientific data (not opinion) shows that. The Europe is doing a lot, in terms of renewable energy and emission cut but, if you still continue to think in terms of short term vision, all of what we are doing is nothing. That is the problem.

  4. Christos Mouzeviris

    The people are willing to change their lifestyles…I would if I was offered with alternatives..That are not too expensive of course..Someone has to take the lead and promote investments in order to create new green technology…Once I have a choice to buy an electric car at around the same price as a petrol car, then I would buy it…I will agree with Willy that is too easy to use them as a scapegoat for everything..But they are not making easier either…Unfortunately they are the leading economy in the World, and if change would come en masse, they will have to come on board as well…otherwise either someone should take the lead and offer an alternative, and here comes the role of Europe, or we should hope and wait until America change their minds..In my opinion Europe should offer the greener alternative example, and take the lead in this new alternative..We could benefit and we owe it to the future generations..what are we waiting for?

  5. Giovanni Macchia

    I am European, therefore it is difficult for me evaluate the US political arena. However, I will discuss about some facts. The US Republican Party (or, better, the US senators of the Republican Party) published the report “U. S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming” that it is pure disinformation, as demonstrated here http://theclimatesummiteu.blogspot.com/2010/09/negationist-us-senate-minority-report.html

    Moreover, some lobbysts of the US Republican Party did actions to spread worldwide that kind of disinformation against the scientific evidence of the global warming (for example, with some Italian senators). Therefore, the Republican Party is one of the problems, togheter with some “experts” of associations, paid by some big corporations, disinforming about the evidence that the human activities are the cause of the global warming.

  6. zach

    On the Republican party: yep, that’s exactly the case. this is our biggest hurdle as far as i can tell.

    of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others (like developing countries’ rapid growth and use of fossil fuels), but this is the biggest, and if it were addressed i think developing countries would do more as well.

  7. david fuzzey

    mabey you should read what global dimming is??.

  8. Peter Schellinck

    Are the Republican Party in the US the single biggest obstacle to reaching a global agreement on climate change is an obvious question. When one realizes that investment in public transportation infrastructure has been at the expense of keeping cars in circulation, it’s clear that this industry is subject to heavy lobbying. However, the global agreement should be truly global as we only have one planet where we all live on. So, avoid the Copenhagen disaster of confusion and clubbing. Developing and developed countries are as much part of the problem as part of the solution.

    Nuclear power does not hold all the answers and certainly not all the blame. Diversity is the key to dealing with the world’s renewable energy requirements. In doing so we have to be responsible and respectful for Mother Nature and apply the cradle to cradle principle. When one realizes that it took some 15 years for biofuels to represent +/- 3% of our energy package, how long will it really last for renewables to be a credible supply and what damage or risks does it cause (increased food challenges)? Nuclear is remarkably clean, safe and powerful. By stopping we are, ourselves, depleting our potential for progress. Skilled engineers are not embarking on a nuclear career because of fear for future career. If we had not gone through the dislike process of the last decennia we could have already found answers for the waste treatment, efficiency and adequate uranium extraction.

    This process unfortunately does push us back to reliance on coal and natural gas. Is this not depleting our planet?

    10/11/2011 Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes, President of the European Renewable Energies Federation (ENREF), has responded to this comment.

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