Transitioning to atom for net zero carbon emissions and mitigating the threats of climate change have become the international community’s focus. In this regard, several conferences and summits have been held recently to find a way to deal with the effects of climate change. The December 2023 Conference of Parties – COP 28 – has led the states to conduct high-level meetings and build a consensus on the policy and strategy for climate change mitigation.

More than 20 countries have committed to triple the use of nuclear power for a transition to net zero.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, observed that “to achieve sustainable economic development and avert the devastating consequences of unchecked climate change requires making use of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear power.”

Moreover, US envoy John Kerry stated, “The world cannot achieve net zero emissions without building new reactors.” In the declaration of tripling the use of nuclear energy for climate change mitigation, Kerry also stated that “the declaration recognizes the key role of nuclear energy in achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and keeping the 1.5-degree Celsius goal within reach.”

The 2022 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment on climate change mitigation highlights that there could be a substantial rise in temperatures globally. The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions surge negatively impacts the ecosystem, forcing people to relocate, fueling deforestation, and damaging agricultural land and infrastructure.

COP is the first conference that accepted the principle of loss and damage, which holds promise for more developing countries on the frontline of climate degradation. There is a need to create a committee for the immediate transfer of funds to the most affected countries to develop concrete policies and infrastructure.

The acceptance of nuclear energy is a viable energy option along with other renewable sources for replacing fossil fuels, as viewed by Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi, executive director at the Islamabad-based think tank, Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS). States must bring some significant changes in the energy industry to limit global warming and the effects of climate change.

The transition from fossil fuel to nuclear energy has primarily two benefits. Firstly, nuclear energy is considered a clean energy source that does not incur GHG emissions. Secondly, Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) can operate on a single load for approximately 18 months. This results in high-capacity power generation and an increased ability to save fuel.

Renewables such as wind and solar are also clean energy sources and are being utilized. However, they are slow-paced and depend on the countries’ weather conditions and seasonal variations.

The initiative Atoms4NetZero, adopted at the 67th General Conference in Vienna, aims to support and assist the member states in harnessing the full potential of nuclear energy, leading to net zero carbon emissions. However, such an initiative cannot succeed until relevant stakeholders’ inclusive engagement is ensured.

The member states shall focus on enhancing the capacities of the regulatory bodies and relevant stakeholders, including industry and financial institutions while cooperating in all aspects, specifically nuclear technology. To harness the full potential of nuclear technology for energy production, the member states and relevant stakeholders need to consider several factors.

The first is to provide extensive technical and financial support to climate-vulnerable states to utilize the full potential of nuclear power for energy production. Secondly, under the auspices of the IAEA, the member states should also build a consensus for long-term policy about nuclear energy.

The third is working together to develop or place small modular reactors (SMRs) with enhanced safety features. Fourth is training for the countries that are new to nuclear technology or need more experience in capacity building for their professionals, engineers, and scientists. Fifth is the engagement of relevant stakeholders in the planning and development of advanced reactor technologies. Sixth is carrying out outreach activities to create awareness among the common masses about the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and its role in combating the effects of climate change.

The initiative taken in COP-28- for Atoms4netzero could only be significant if it evolves a consensus on considering the challenges the most climate-vulnerable states face.

Countries like Pakistan, which are most vulnerable to climate change, which as per the climate index, suffer from heavy losses due to monsoons. On the contrary, countries with high population density depend on multiple sources to fulfill their energy requirements, among which fossil fuel is the most common.

To accomplish the Paris Agreement’s goal and achieve net zero carbon emissions, the member states must address two challenges. First, financial limitations are a barrier to fully embracing the benefits of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Second, there needs to be more international cooperation in harnessing nuclear technology’s full potential for peaceful purposes.

The states vulnerable to climate change must also actively participate in relevant forums, such as the COP meetings, emphasizing the use of nuclear power for energy production. Furthermore, such countries must raise the efficacy of initiatives taken in the previous COP meetings. The loss and damage fund was established during COP- 27-, but whether this fund was allocated to vulnerable states is still to be checked.

In this context, a significant development occurred in COP -28- in various countries such as the US and the UK. The EU and UAE pledged to grant funds for loss and damage; however, it is essential to disperse allocated funds to the most vulnerable countries.

Such efforts can help these countries fulfill their energy requirements while lowering dependence on alternative energy resources that are detrimental to the environment. The transition towards increasing the reliance on nuclear power in the overall energy mix under the auspices of the IAEA can also help states achieve net zero carbon emissions.

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