We’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.
Erik Solheim is a Norwegian politician for the Socialist Left Party (SV). He holds two posts in the current Norwegian cabinet, and carries the title Minister of the Environment and Minister of Development Cooperation.