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8th May 2021

EU: Japanese nuclear accident will affect UN climate talks

  • Runge-Metzger denied the renewed debate over nuclear energy would impact on global ambitions to cut carbon emissions (Photo: Oxfam)

The crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant will have a major impact on global climate talks, a senior EU official has said, adding that the 27-member bloc will now study low-nuclear energy solutions more closely.

"We haven't seen the end of what is going to happen in Fukushima," top EU climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger told a news conference on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday (3 April).

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"So certainly it is something that has an impact on climate negotiations," added Runge-Metzger, as delegates from nearly 200 countries began a six-day meeting on tackling climate change.

The UN gathering is the first of its kind since negotiators reached a moderately successful deal in Cancun, Mexico, last December, including a formal recognition that emission pledges must be increased in order to maintain global warming to below two degrees centigrade.

But since then a massive Japanese earthquake on 11 March and a subsequent tsunami served to knock out cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, causing many countries across the globe to reassess their nuclear energy plans.

Runge-Metzger denied the renewed debate over the controversial low-carbon energy source would negatively impact on global ambitions to cut carbon emissions.

"On one hand, you might say I can't use nuclear because we might have nuclear disasters. But I think everybody around the table is also saying we can't have climate change because it is also going to lead to disasters," he said.

Nuclear energy currently makes up 30 percent of the EU energy mix - two-thirds of its low-carbon electricity generation - with active plants in 14 member states.

Decisions on whether to use nuclear power lie with national governments, although a '2050 Roadmap' published in March by the commission said nuclear energy should play an important role in the bloc's transition to a low-carbon economy.

Runge-Metzger said the Japanese crisis could lead to a rethink of the '2050 roadmap' however, with more detailed plans scheduled for this autumn now likely to look at more low-nuclear scenarios.

A backlash against nuclear energy has already been evident in parts of the EU since events in Japan, with Berlin announcing plans last month to temporarily halt energy production at seven of the countries oldest nuclear plants.

The decision failed to halt mass protests and the loss of the key state of Baden-Wuerttemberg for Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party, with Berlin also facing legal challenges over the decision.

Last Friday, one of Germany's nuclear operators, RWE, filed a lawsuit against the three-month moratorium, arguing that nothing had changed at the nuclear plants since 2010 when Merkel agreed to prolong the country's nuclear phase-out from 2022 to 2036.

The debate over Europe's nuclear future comes at a time when the bloc's emissions trading system (ETS) has also faced criticism.

Designed to promote a gradual reduction in carbon emissions by forcing companies to buy 'pollution permits' on a carbon market, the system suffered a series of cyber-attacks earlier this year and failed to stop emissions rising in 2010.

Data released by the commission on Friday show emissions from factories and power stations rose 3.5 per last year as power demand and industrial output increased, but still remained under the total emission cap allowed under the EU scheme.

Environmental groups said a tightening of cap was essential if the EU's flagship climate policy was to have any effect. "It is imperative that the next carbon budget corrects this surplus," said Damien Morris, senior policy advisor for the climate campaign group Sandbag.

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